Because most employers Google the names on job applications and resumes, your name is one of the most important keyword phrases for your job search and your career.
Consequently, a new and very serious problem has developed: mistaken online identity. Someone else's misbehavior or bad reputation may be ruining opportunities for you when an employer finds that person when they search online, and that person is someone they wouldn't want to hire.
The name you use professionally is just as important to you in many ways as a "screen name" is to an actor or actress.
Your screen name identifies you to employers, recruiters, members of your network, and anyone else involved in your professional life, including clients, customers, and suppliers.
Your screen name needs to be:
If you aren't using the same name for all of your online professional activity, you are blurring your online reputation and weakening your online visibility and personal brand.
Research your name on Google, Bing, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Didn't find anyone else using your name? Lucky you! Claim your name on your LinkedIn Profile, including the customized LinkedIn URL for your Profile. You're done. Congratulations!
Most of us find other people who have the same or very similar names and are currently using those same/similar names online. If that's what you find, too, evaluate what you find to determine which version of your name is the best professional screen name for you.
Now you have a starting point for choosing your name.
This won't change the name your family and close friends call you. It won't change the name on your birth or marriage certificate or other legal documents. But it will change the name used for your professional presence online.
Some people add a degree or professional designation to the end of their names, like Mary Smith, MBA or William Smith, CPA. This can be useful for differentiation and personal marketing, but it may cause problems with automated systems that consider the last "word" in a name to be the surname. So, you could be visible Ms MBA or Mr. CPA, and otherwise un-identifiable.
As much as possible, you need to differentiate yourself from others with similar names, but your family and friends don't need to change.
A Google search on almost anyone's name will turn up many results, but at the top of the first page of results is usually that name on LinkedIn. So, claim your name on your professional screen name for your LinkedIn Profile by simply editing the name in your existing Profile.
If you can, grab the customized LinkedIn URL that contains that professional screen name. Click on the pencil icon below your photo when you are on the Edit Profile screen to make that change.
LinkedIn also allows you to specify a "Former/Married" name, which is great if your last name has changed a few times. That can be very helpful for people who knew you before your marriage.
That name is your professional identity. Use it consistently online and off-line in your:
Be sure that -- when an employer or recruiter does a search on the name on your resume, application, or networking/business card -- they find your professional image.
If you absolutely must rant online (or even in email) about politics, religion, sports, or other controversial topic, use a different version of your name and a different email address.
My favorite example is famous actor Jim Jones. Never heard of him? Yes, you have! Jim Jones has won so many awards for his acting (28!) that they take up 2 screens in his Wikipedia page, from Academy Awards to Tony Awards, including many Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. You probably know him much better - and recognize him much more quickly - by his professional screen name: "James Earl Jones."
If "Jim Jones" can differentiate himself from all the other people with the same name, so can you!
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+.