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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 ("SEO") is defined as creating web content that ranks well in relevant searches. Appearing in the results for a search on your name or your skills is known as personal SEO. The foundation of personal SEO is using the keywords (terms used by the people searching) most appropriate for you.

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 Not being found (also known as being "invisible") kills your credibility, and labels you as "out-of-date" or, worse, fake.

Benefits of Effective Personal SEO

Having solid personal SEO (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.

Currently, the places to be found are Google (which is the dominant search engine with over 70% of the searches in the USA in 2018) and LinkedIn (which is the dominant professional social network). To be effective, the method used to be found, usually, is building an online presence in LinkedIn and other social media and other options discussed in this Guide.


Recruiters and Employers Search Constantly

The availability of the Internet and the many online recruiting platforms provides many options for both employers and job seekers. Depending on where employers are in the recruiting process, they do different kinds of searching.

Why Employers Search

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

  1. Find job candidates who are qualified for their jobs.
  2. Research the people who have applied for their job postings to help separate the qualified from the unqualified.

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.

Where Employers Search

Search options are not limited to the big search engines like Google and Bing. Employers also search relevant social networks, too, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. They also search professional and information sharing sites GetHub, Medium, Quora, and many more, depending on their specific requirements.

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.

How Employers Search

Depending on the employer's reason for research, employers search two primary ways:

  1. To find those qualified candidates

    When they are seeking candidates qualified for their job opening, they search using the requirements of the job. For example, if they job required someone who could use Microsoft Office, they would search using the keywords, "Microsoft Office." They might also search for people with relevant job titles, like "administrative assistant." These searches are typically done using Google, LinkedIn, and/or the employer's applicant tracking system ("ATS) or resume database.
  2. To screen applicants

    When a job has been posted and they are researching the applicants for that job, they typically search the Internet for the applicant's name. So the name you use in your applications needs to match your other online professional visibility (like your LinkedIn Profile). If nothing associated with your name is found, you are not viewed as a "ghost" (someone, suspiciously, with no online professional visibility). These searches are typically done using Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

Using social networks smartly is a simple easy way to become find-able, as long as you focus on your keywords, including your name.

[Read Managing Your Google Resume, Your Most Important Keywords, and Defensive Googling to understand how to manage your personal online reputation.]

Optimize Your Resume and Social Media to Be Found

Paying attention to the terms used in the job description is not optional for most employers now because of the widespread use of applicant tracking systems and resume databases.

Use the Right Words

When you are responding to a specific opportunity, use a customized resume or application tailored for that specific opportunity. If you try to use a single version of your resume to apply for every job, chances are slim that you will succeed because you might not be using the right terms in your application.

For example, the job description may specify someone who has experience as a "project manager" and who holds a "PMP certification." If you are a project manager with a PMP certification but your application reads "PMP certified project mgr," your application will very likely not be seen because the words ("project manager" vs. "project mgr" and "PMP certification" vs. "PMP certified") will not match.

When you are building public visibility on social media, matching every employer's terminology is impossible, so the best you can do is focus on the terms used by your target employers or the terms used by most employers if you don't have any specific targets. More on meeting the needs of multiple employers below.

Recruiters DO search the web, particularly LinkedIn, applicant tracking systems, and other social media for qualified candidates. So, being find-able is very important.

Spell Everything Correctly

I've seen so many deadly spelling mistakes in LinkedIn Profiles. When you spell a keyword incorrectly, you have eliminated yourself from the search results for that keyword. These are the kind of spelling mistakes I've found in my own LinkedIn network:

  • Manager - spelled "manger" 118,949 times
  • Management - spelled "mangement" 6,749 times
  • Representative - spelled "represenative" 15,635 times
  • Engineer - spelled "enginer" 4,494 times
  • and on and on and on

So, avoid sabotaging your personal SEO by using spellcheck and proofreading carefully before posting. Bad grammar is an opportunity killer, too.

[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 for her location (and local employers) to do the research shown below. You could also use, LinkedIn, or your favorite job board for your research, but be sure to focus on your location and/or your target employers so the results are most effective for you.

Her research showed 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

When she had her counts, 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 also include the term "Admin Assistant" since that was 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 terms 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 -- in both social media and job applications -- 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+.


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