Your Digital Career Identity – Validating (Part 2)

Recently I was reading a 3-part article by a friend of mine on personal branding in the job search. It reminded me that I wrote an article a while back on building a Digital Career Identity by focusing on blogging.  The intent of these articles was to encourage you to start building a career-focused professional identity online … a personal brand that is found online. So I thought I’d provide some online identity validation thoughts to build on the prior blogging post.

Validating Your Online Identity

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You see, over the last several years, it has become common for recruiters and hiring managers to “look at you” online before they hire you. In fact, a recent survey indicated that almost 90% (yes, 9 out of 10) U.S. companies will use social networking for recruiting in 2011. So what does this mean for the average job seeker? And will this make an impact on the average person’s job search?

First … let’s do a simple test. Using both Google and Bing, search for yourself. Try both your legal name and your common name – for example, if your first name is William, also look for Bill. By looking carefully at every entry returned on the first two pages (probably 40 lines total) of results from Bing and Google, answer these questions:

  1. Of the 40 or so results returned by both searches, how many of them were definitely you and not just advertisements with your name displayed? If the result is 20 or more, you have a strong start on a digital identity, if it’s less than 5, then you are not well identified. Anything in the middle is a minor digital identity.
  2. Looking just at the results that are definitely related to you from step 1, are they presenting you as a strong professional, are they showing you in an un-professional light, or is it something in-between? If over 25% of your results are showing the “professional you”, then you’re on the right track.
  3. And of these professional results from step 2, is there at least one result that was provided by another professional that is referencing your professional work or your professional skills? If yes, then you have a modestly strong peer-relevance…a good thing.

If you can say that you are easily located and identified using both Bing and Google and that the findings are professional and others recognize your skills, then you are on the way to having a decent digital career identity!

However, if the results are mostly photos of you dancing on the table at a keg party, or text from online discussions where you are ranting about Obama-care or the Bush Tax Cuts, or your name didn’t show up much at all, then you have a potential digital career identity problem. You see, most companies that might want to hire you will want you to effectively represent them to their clients. And if the first (or most dominant) things that they find of you online are un-professional or undesirable, then they will pass over hiring you … they have plenty of other candidates to choose from.

OK, so let’s assume for the moment that the results from the above test were inconclusive (or you want a 2nd opinion regarding the diagnosis), try out some of these sites:

  • Here’s a decent online identity calculator that uses a similar approach to my steps above, but they drill down a little deeper in the analysis.
  • If you’ve had any “public records” that are of a concern, the 123people or peekyou websites probably knows about it. Again, make sure to try out variations of your name (e.g., Bill, Willie, William)
  • Of course there’s LinkedIn … how complete and engaging is your profile? You need a solid summary, at least a 90% profile completion, and 3 or more recommendations to be taken seriously.
  • If you are active with Twitter or Facebook, then check out Klout or Branchout to see how you compare with others (shows interaction with others of significance).

Improving Your Digital Career Identity

Now that you have a sense of your current digital identity, what do you do to make it better?

  • As I said in my previous post, start a blog that shares your professional and technical talents (not what you had for lunch today, or political rantings, or your beliefs in alien abductions).
  • Spend some time in LinkedIn and post some well-considered questions or answers in the Answers area. Focus on answering questions to show your skill and knowledge in your profession or to refer to an expert in your network, thus showing your industry knowledge or connections.
  • Find a few profession-oriented blogs and discussions on the Internet and engage in debate or opinion that shows you’ve studied — offering references to well-respected professionals shows you are well read and capable of research.
  • Locate the job/career related social sites that are less well known and post your profile there – places like Spoke, Plaxo, Visible.Me, and others.

Also, I should mention a few things you should avoid doing online that will not help your online career reputation:

  • Don’t engage in the “banter” of responding to online news articles. There are inevitably people that will disagree with you and belittle you — and trying to defend yourself in these arenas is a useless effort that only serves to tarnish your reputation.
  • Unless you are pursuing a life in politics, don’t ever discuss a political issue online. If you do, try to stay “center” and “neutral” — a strong liberal or conservative stance can hurt your opportunities with some firms. Also, avoid other “boundary” topics like religion, race, immigration, bigfoot, etc.
  • Set your “visibility” on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social sites to only show your “public” face to people who are not in your group/circle/network. For example, in LinkedIn you can choose to have your photo or your education only available to your network and not the entire world.
  • Go back onto Facebook and un-tag all the photos that are un-professional. No, on Facebook you don’t have to be someone you aren’t, just don’t let everyone see whom you happened to be when you weren’t thinking about whom you would want to be.

Let me leave you with a digital identity warning…the Web seldom forgets. It is almost impossible to clean-up or remove your “blemishes” from the Web. Some companies, like Reputation Defender, charge big bucks to help clean up your mess (or clear your name), but even these can’t resolve all your identity challenges. Be proactive and manage your identity by posting things you want your future employers to see. This way, when the recruiter or hiring manager is looking at you online, you can be all they want you to be!

Bottom Line: Building a career-oriented online reputation is key in today’s job search. Be aware of what the Internet knows about you. Make sure that you can be found easily via a web search and that it displays a modest amount of your professional talents, not just your social interactions. Take some time to clean up any items than might be a detractor for a potential employer and then spend time to propagate your “professional self” to key professional websites.

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