Employers are Googling you. Now what?

google you

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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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 Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.
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    • Jeannette
    • December 12, 2013

    I completely understand that we must be aware of what is online about us but I don’t understand where this article can assist. Having a LinkedIn profile can be helpful for job applicants but having a public LinkedIn with a photo can also set prospective applicants up for discrimination and unwanted advances. Women need to be careful for possible harassment, stalkers, discrimination. It’s a catch 22.

      • CTryst
      • December 15, 2013

      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 I should get rid of everyone with my name and alert Google and Bing! I’m starting to hate technology. It’s too intrusive and everyone seems to have blindly given their freedom to be left alone to it. So sad.

    • Christina
    • December 18, 2013

    I have also worried about the possibility for discrimination, but a nice, professional looking photo can go a long way (notice “professional looking.” A good shot taken with your camera phone and edited with any number of free photo editors, even Instagram, can go a long way towards making a boring headshot stand out and be an attractive addition to your profile.). But, this is a fact we have to face – either we get discriminated against pre-interview, or we walk in the door, get the interview, but get discriminated against still.

    As for the common name, I have just about the most common name out there. Searching my name and going through 5+ pages on Google I still don’t find myself immediately. However, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, and these other social media sites group users by name. So a search for “Name and social media site” will pull “__# of people with that name.” In short, employers can find you. You can even guide where they find you if you provide them the link straight up in a cover letter or some such (as in, “please refer to my LinkedIn profile for additional information about my skills and knowledge in this area.”).

    Finally, I am a firm believer in controlling the data that is out there. It makes for more work, but I have a double identity online. I have my personal accounts on various social media and professional accounts. My personal accounts are invisible – security locked down tight and rechecked every month or two. My public profiles are just that, absolutely public with no attempts at privacy. It can be a pain remembering to update those sites so that they look active and useful, but it avoids appearing invisible or like a luddite. And each of those sites has their own unique photo, taken by a cell phone, carefully staged and edited to look professionally taken.

  1. Wonderfully informative article, Susan. Job seekers need to become aware of who they are online – and who they aren’t. And then they need to do something about it. While I’ve known people who get good jobs with little online presence, the wrong online presence can undo all your other efforts. Especially like your reminders about contradictory information. So important.

    • Scambush
    • January 19, 2014

    Well if they are going to find out something dodgy that you posted online, and thus disregard your application, wouldn’t you want it to happen before the interviews? God forbid you are just about to be at the offer stage and the photo of you with a bong surfaces. At least in this case you can just regard it as another job application of many you don’t hear back from.

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