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Employers Are Googling You. Now What?

A web browser showing a google search.

My friend Dick Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, said that Google is the new resume in 2009, and he was, as usual, absolutely right!

I’ve spoken with many job seekers who were proud that nothing about them was visible in an Internet search on their name. They didn’t understand that being “invisible” might be good for a spy but has a very big downside for a job seeker.

An excellent study in early 2010 revealed that 79% of employers Googled job seekers before inviting them in for an interview (PDF). The same survey showed that less than half of the job seekers surveyed paid any attention to their “Internet footprint.” In 2012, another study showed that 37% of the employers surveyed used social media to screen potential candidates.

What are employers looking for?

In the “old days” (5 or more years ago), a traditional background check was an expensive process, involving checking public records and credit bureaus. It was usually one of the last steps in the hiring process. Not anymore!

Now, employers use Google (and Bing) for quick screening of applicants. An internet search on each applicant’s name is one of the first steps in the hiring process, helping them save time in reviewing resumes and interviewing applicants.

In general, employers are looking for positive things:

  • Confirming the facts on your resume – the employers, job titles, dates, and education
  • Discovering how well you communicate – good spelling and grammar, coherent writing
  • Getting a sense of how professionally you present yourself
  • Seeing if you are a good fit for the company culture

But, they also find are things that can hurt candidates:

  • Conflicting “facts” that contradict the resume
  • Inappropriate photos
  • Inappropriate behavior like use of drugs, excessive drinking, bad mouthing employers and co-workers (current or former), and use of “hate” language.

Even if you have lived a perfect, blameless life, employers may find things on the Internet that reflect badly on you. Unfortunately, it may not be anything you have done. Particularly if you have a relatively common name, someone else with the same name may have done something a potential employer views as inappropriate for the job you applied for.

So, what does this mean for you?

Pay attention to what is visible online associated with your name

Understand that even if what you find is not about you personally, it may be impacting your job search. An employer won’t know that person who posed for a photo smoking illegal drugs or doing a pole dance was not you. They also won’t know if the person reported in the news for robbing the bank was not you. The name can be the same, even if the people are not! And that can damage your job search.

On a weekly basis, search both Google and Bing to see what they show associated with your name. Yes, that has been called “vanity Googling” or “ego surfing.” I prefer a much more accurate term – “Defensive Googling.”

Build “social proof” of who you are and what you know

Nearly everyone needs some form of positive online visibility, particularly when they are in a job search. I call this “social proof” that you are who you say you are and have done what you say you have done.

LinkedIn is the best place to start. A LinkedIn profile is the cornerstone of your professional social proof. Be sure your profile is 100% complete and public. Don’t skip the photo! A nice headshot (only you – no kids, pets, family, or friends) will help people recognize you and separate you from the empty profiles created by spammers. If possible, use the same headshot photo you use for Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and your other public social media profiles.

Your LinkedIn profile is your best insurance against mistaken online identity because the top results in any search on a person’s name are usually a page from LinkedIn. So even if your name is Mary Smith and there’s an evil Mary Smith who has robbed a bank, Google will show the employer a result from LinkedIn that tells the employer to “There are 25 professionals named Mary Smith…” Most likely, the Mary Smith who robbed the bank is not included in that list, but you will be included.

LinkedIn Groups are an excellent venue for building professional social proof of your knowledge and expertise. Participate like a grown-up (not everyone does). Post good information, and make well-written comments in Groups that are appropriate for your job search. Find groups for your profession, your industry, your location, your hobbies, and your other interests. All of those Groups will allow you to expand your network and demonstrate that you are up-to-date, able to successfully navigate this important business venue.

Bottom line

It doesn’t hurt to add the URL for your LinkedIn Profile to your resumes to be sure that employers make that connection. Then, permanently pay attention to your online reputation, a new requirement in this era of search engines and social media.

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About the Author | 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 former Visiting Scholar at MIT's Sloan School of Management, Susan is editor and publisher of and Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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