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.
For a successful job search and career today, personal SEO is a necessity.
The foundation of personal SEO is using the keywords (terms used by the people searching) most appropriate for you.
Not being found (also known as being "invisible") kills your credibility, and labels you as "out-of-date" or, worse, fake. It also makes you vulnerable to mistaken online identity.
Having solid personal SEO (visibility in search engine results) provides you with many opportunities, including:
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.
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.
Recent studies have shown that more than 90 percent of employers and recruiters use search engines to:
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.
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.
Depending on the employer's reason for research, employers search two primary ways:
Using social networks smartly is a simple easy way to become find-able, as long as you focus on your keywords, including your name.
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.
Effective SEO is using the right keywords for you logically and naturally in context.
Effective SEO is not simply repeating your keywords over and over and over again in your LinkedIn Profile, resume, or application. To be effective, you must include your keywords appropriately in the content. If your SEO is obvious, you haven't done a good job.
For example, assume you are an IT project manager who is expert in the use of agile/scrum methodology with experience managing project budgets, tracking project deliverables, and managing changes in project scope. Your target job is a similar opportunity with a larger employer.
Use your keywords in your LinkedIn Profile, particularly in your Professional Headline like this:
In your resumes and applications, simply listing and repeating the keywords wouldn't be effective. Instead, include them graceful in context like this:
Scrum Master/Agile IT Project Manager
As appropriate, create similar bulleted lists for your other jobs with accomplishments for each of those employers provided as proof of each qualification.
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.
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:
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 Choosing the Best Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile to understand more about keywords in your resumes, applications, and LinkedIn.]
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.
If employers cannot easily find your online presence, you will be eliminated from consideration.
I know quite intelligent people who are "Mary J. Smith" on their business cards and resumes, but "Mary Smith" on LinkedIn and "MJ Smith" on Facebook, or a variation on that unfortunate theme.
Consequently, when recruiters tried to verify the facts on her resumes and applications, they couldn't find her easily (and it wasn't because her name is Mary Smith).
Since they couldn't find her online, they ignored her applications even though she was qualified. Not being find-able made them think that she was out-of-date (didn't understand how to operate in this online world) or fake.
Very likely, people she met at business meetings and other professional networking events had the same problem when they tried to connect with her on LinkedIn or to see if she would be a good person to recommend for a job. Since they couldn't find her online either, they also ignored her as out-of-date.
In addition, you are vulnerable to mistaken online identity when you don't have one version of your name that you use consistently and research regularly. Read "Defensive Googling" and "Case Study: How Name Confusion Can Make Your Job Search More Challenging" for more information.
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 Craigslist.org for her location (and local employers) to do the research shown below. You could also use Indeed.com, 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!
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!
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.]
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:
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.
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 Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.