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Guide to Personal SEO for Job Search and Careers

By Susan P. Joyce

Guide to Personal SEO for Job Search and Careers

Search engine optimization is defined as creating web content that ranks well in relevant searches. Appearing in the search results on a search for your name or your skills is known as personal search engine optimization ("SEO").

For a successful job search and career today, personal SEO is a necessity. Not being found (also known as being "invisible") kills your credibility, and labels you as "out-of-date" or, worse, fake.

On the other hand, having solid visibility in search engine results provides you with many opportunities, including:

  • Being considered for a job without applying.
  • Being invited to a job interview as the result of an application.
  • Being hired for a job after passing this screen.
  • Being found by potential clients or customers.
  • Re-connecting with old friends and former colleagues.

The place to be found is Google, and the method, usually, is building an online presence via social media and other options discussed in this Guide.


Definition of Terms

Understanding personal SEO is hard to do without understanding the concepts of SEO practiced by web professionals.

  • "Search Engine Optimization (SEO)" is the art/science of using the right words on a web page (like this article, a LinkedIn Profile, or a resume) to have the page appear in search engine results for an appropriate search query. So, a webpage about how to photograph orchids would appear in search results when someone is looking for a page on how to take pictures of orchids.
  • "Keywords" are the phrases that searchers type -- or speak -- into a search engine when they want to find information online. Keywords used by the searchers are the foundation of SEO. The right words ("keywords") in the right places on a web page make the page visible in the results of a query done by someone looking for information on that subject.
  • "Personal SEO" is the art/science of using the right keywords for you and your career in the right places in your resumes and other career documents. When you use keywords well, your next job or next client will find you. If you are a chef, your keywords are the terms that describe the type of cooking you do best and want to do in the future. If you are a nurse, your keywords are the terms that describe your medical specialty. Keywords are job titles, skills, certifications, locations, and much more
  • LinkedIn SEO is the art/science of using the right keywords for you and your career in the right places in LinkedIn. These "right places" include your LinkedIn Profile plus your activities in LinkedIn Groups, the articles you write in LinkedIn Pulse, and the other information you share in LinkedIn Updates.

Now, the necessity of understanding and practicing good SEO is here for all of us on a personal basis. Having a coherent, professional, visible, and find-able presence on the web is not optional today.

Recruiters and Employers Search Constantly

With low unemployment and many jobs open, employers are always looking for good people to hire. The availability of the Internet and the many online recruiting platforms provides many options for employers and job seekers.

Search options are not limited to Google and Bing. Employers also search relevant social networks, too, like LinkedIn, Facebook, GetHub, Medium, Quora, and many more, depending on their specific requirements. And "sourcers" search the social networks using search engines. Using social networks smartly is a simple easy way to become find-able, as long as you focus on your keywords.

Recent studies have shown that more than 90 percent of employers and recruiters use search engines to:

  • Research the people who have applied for their job postings.
  • Find people who are qualified for their jobs, sometimes even before a job is posted.

The results of those studies are not really surprising. Think about the times you are considering an investment (of your time, your money, or both). You use a search engine to research and evaluate your options -- which car, smart phone, restaurant, book, etc. is the best investment for you?

Similarly, employers hiring new employees are making big investments, too. The process itself is expensive, but more expensive is a "bad hire" -- someone who does damage or who needs to be replaced too soon. To avoid making a bad hire, employers research the people who apply for their jobs.

This searching by employers is a fact of life. So, smart job seekers adapt to this relentless searching, and learn how to beat the competition -- the people who aren't paying attention.

[Read Managing Your Google Resume, How Name Confusion Can Make Your Job Search More Difficult, and Defensive Googling to understand how to manage your personal online reputation.]

Optimize Your Resume and Social Media to Be Found

When you aren't responding to a specific opportunity, which requires a customized resume tailored for that specific opportunity, you should design your resume to meet the needs of the web and job board search engines.

Recruiters DO search the web, particularly LinkedIn, applicant tracking systems, and job boards for resumes. So, being find-able is very important.

[Read Choosing the Best Keywords for Your Job Search, Keyword Secrets to Get Your Resume Noticed, and How to Identify Exactly the Right Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile to understand more about keywords in your resumes, applications, and LinkedIn.]


Research the Keywords Employers Are Using

When searching for candidates qualified for their job openings, recruiters and employers typically search with the same categories of terms.

Understand what they are looking for, so you can include those terms in your resume, as appropriate for you and your goals. Misrepresenting yourself is a big mistake, so be honest.

When you include the terms being searched for, your resume is more likely to be found in that search.

1.  Job Titles 

It's most effective to use the terms that employers are using, and you can find those by examining job postings for the kind of job you want next. 

For example, assume a job seeker currently holds a job as a "Staff Assistant" for a large employer, and she decides that she wants a new job.

When she does some research, she discovers that the rest of the world calls her job "Administrative Assistant" (or, even, "Admin Assistant").  So, no one, except her current employer might be searching on the term "Staff Assistant" because they don't know or use the term.  They are searching for administrative assistants.

She went to ( or LinkedIn) to do some research, and she discovered this:

Administrative Assistant – 334 job postings
Admin Assistant – 72 job postings
Admin Asst – 5 job postings
Admin Assist – 2 job postings
Staff Assistant - 0 job postings

So she replaced her employer's version of her job title (Staff Assistant) with what the rest of the world used most often (Administrative Assistant).  And she found a place on her resume to add the Term "Admin Assistant" since that was also used a significant number of times.

She should use this same strategy on her LinkedIn Profile, too!

2.  Skills or Tools

Analyze how employers use different terms on their job postings so that you can use the most appropriate ones for you.

Continuing with our Administrative Assistant example, let's assume that our job seeker is very experienced in using all the current (and older) versions of Microsoft Office products.  She could simply list "Microsoft Office" on her resume.  But that might not be enough.

Doing some research into what employers are using in their job descriptions, our job seeker finds some interesting things.  She searched through administrative assistant jobs for the following terms, and this is what she found:

Microsoft Office - 122 job postings
Microsoft Word - 217 job postings
Microsoft Excel - 158 job postings
Microsoft Outlook - 286 job postings 

So, if she had listed only Microsoft Office on her resume, she would have missed out on the majority of the job postings.  Notice that, since she was searching through those Administrative Assistant postings, most of them included more than one of the terms, and several of them included all 4.

When employers search through an applicant tracking system or resume database, these tools can analyze both your resume and the job posting you are applying for. They can also analyze the jobs you are targeting with your social media presence. These are currently the most useful:

Again, this same strategy works for her LinkedIn Profile, too! 

3.  Locations

This can be an important set of keywords, as well.  Employers will often search on a job seeker's location because they want someone who is local, someone who won't need to move (or expect the employer to pay for a relocation).  For example, assuming our job seeker wants a job in Massachusetts, some research would be very useful.  A quick check of job postings for jobs in Boston, showed the following usage:

Massachusetts - 1 job posting
Mass - 588 job postings
MA - 1,000+ job postings

Use the word "Massachusetts," the abbreviation "Mass" and the postal code "MA" on your resume. They are each a different way to type the same state name. A recruiter could type any of those variations into his/her search to find someone for a job in Massachusetts.

Again, another effective strategy for her LinkedIn Profile, too! 

[Read The Top 25 Keywords for Your Job Search for even more keyword options for both social media and resumes.]

More About Keywords for Job Search:

In addition to the other articles in this Guide to Personal SEO for Job Search and Careers in the column on the right, check out these articles:

Bottom Line

Ignoring the necessity of personal SEO -- both public and private -- is not smart. Managing personal SEO is not an insurmountable goal. It takes time and attention to set-up the public version and to respond appropriately to the requirements of private personal SEO as you apply for jobs. Then, time will be needed every week to manage both. But, job search will be easier and more effective, and understanding SEO is an important skill today.

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.