Before I speak with a new client, I always Google their name to assess their online presence. I want to see what executive recruiters and other hiring professionals will see when they do the same thing, and consider whether to contact a candidate.
“Bill” is a highly accomplished C-suite executive in the technology sector. His current interim position was winding down. He’d be ready to slide into another one in a few months.
Meantime, he knew he had to update his sadly outdated resume, bio and other career documents.
It became clear in our discussion, that he didn’t understand how important online reputation was and how his lack of online presence could sabotage his job search. He didn’t realize that he was probably already being Googled by people assessing whether or not he was a viable candidate.
Given the same qualifications and other good-fit qualities, these people are more attracted to candidates with a stronger online identity, who appear more savvy with the new world of work.
What a poor online presence looks like
He had a bare-bones LinkedIn profile (only his name and current job title for the profile headline – no About section, no career history except his current job, no recommendations). My Google search on Bill’s name came up with a few measly entries he hadn’t created on the third page of results.
Page one was populated with search results associated with some other people who shared his common name. One of them was a rather unsavory character. My Bill probably wouldn’t be mistaken for that guy, but we needed to work on pushing up his search results above the bad Bill’s.
Another search result for Bill on page three was an aggregate site that had auto-generated a profile for him. That profile contained quite a bit of misinformation about his career history. It looked like they had used the information of someone else who shared his name.
The last of his search results on page three was another auto-generated profile on one of the public records aggregators. Nothing new there. Nothing that would help people assessing him.
I looked through the first five pages of search results, and that was the pitiful extent of his online footprint.
Bill had been putting out feelers with his network, to let them know when he’d be available. You can bet that, as the word spread about him, recruiters and hiring decision makers at his target companies were looking for information about him online. They would be sadly disappointed and may question whether they should consider him.
The first few pages are the most important to them, and what they DON’T find has almost as much impact as when they find digital dirt about you. They’re looking for relevant, diverse, on-brand results that consistently support your credibility as a good-fit candidate.
How Do Employers Search To Find Candidates Like You?
Known as “social recruiting”, there are two primary ways that hiring professionals use search (using Google, Bing, other search engines, and social media) for hiring:
To source new candidates
They search by the requirements for the job. If the position they need to fill requires expertise in Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, they will search on those keywords.
They also search using job titles, such as Senior Healthcare Generalist or IT Operations Executive.
To assess candidates they’ve already found
When applicants respond to job postings or make it into the running through referrals or other means, each applicant’s name is searched. This is why it’s so important to use your name exactly the same way everywhere online.
Along with sussing out information to learn more about you, employers are seeking “social proof” to confirm that you are who you say you are.
Social proof is your social media activity and any information that resides online about you. It lends credibility to the claims you’ve made about yourself verbally, and in your LinkedIn profile, executive resume and other job search materials.
Social proof that is positive helps position you as a good-fit hiring choice and as an up-to-date social media-savvy executive.
Hiring professionals know that job seekers are less likely to fudge or exaggerate in their LinkedIn profile (and other online profiles) than they are in their paper or digital career documents (resume, biography, cover letters, etc.).
Is Your Online Presence Non-Existent, Barely There, or Negative?
If they find nothing or nothing much of substance when they search “your name”, you are as good as invisible to them. They’ll doubt your viability as a candidate. They’ll probably move on to the next name on their list and focus on candidates with a more robust online presence. Along with Google, Bing and other major search engines, they will search on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.
Conversely, if they find negative search results for you, you’ll be tainted to them, and most likely also be thrown out of the running.
Don’t forget that LinkedIn and other social networks are search engines, too, just like Google or Bing.
Because LinkedIn is the most important social network for job search and career, this should be where you devote most of your online job search time.
The LinkedIn search engines pulls results from the content in members’ profiles. And hiring professionals have special tools for deep and advanced search on LinkedIn.
Because recruiters and other hiring professionals rely so heavily on LinkedIn to source candidates, what you do with your profile really matters.
Especially, your profile headline really matters. And SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for your headline is particularly important.
When you get enough of the right keywords into your headline, boosted by enough keywords elsewhere throughout your profile, you greatly increase the ranking of your profile. It will be more likely to place higher in search results for your skills, your job title and your name.
What Happens When Employers Screen Using Social Media
Over the past several years, social media sites have become an important hiring tool. A CareerBuilder survey from a few years ago found that 70% of employers use social recruiting to screen candidates and more than half have rejected candidates based on what they found. We can assume that those numbers have risen since the survey was done.
Social recruiting is so popular because social media search is a free to them, compared to the high expense of posting jobs.
But there are drawbacks.
According to Harvard Business Review:
“Much of what they dig up is information they are ethically discouraged or legally prohibited from taking into account when evaluating candidates—and little of it is predictive of performance.”
These things can include gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, political views, religious affiliation, plus indications of gambling, alcohol consumption, and drug use. As you are probably aware, maybe from your own social media habits, people disclose all kinds of sensitive information about themselves on places like Facebook and Twitter.
Chad Van Iddekinge, a professor at the University of Iowa, noted in the above article:
“You can see why many recruiters love social media—it allows them to discover all the information they aren’t allowed to ask about during an interview.”
Although they’re not supposed to take any of this negative stuff into consideration, you can safely assume that many of them do.
It’s clear that either having an anemic or non-existent online presence, or having a negative online presence can severely impact your job search.
How To Fix Your Online Presence
If you’re in one (or more) of the boats I mentioned above, what do you do about it?
Work steadily on building a diverse, robust online presence on various social channels.
Your online brand communications plan should be built around posting relevant content that will demonstrate your subject matter expertise, and can include:
- Fully populating every applicable section of your LinkedIn profile
- Keeping your LinkedIn Profile content up to date with your latest accomplishments and contributions.
- Posting articles on LinkedIn’s Pulse network
- Posting LinkedIn updates
- Commenting and otherwise reacting to other people’s updates and Pulse articles
- Joining and participating in LinkedIn Groups
- Commenting on blogs and other widely-read online publications, including those for relevant professional associations
- Starting your own website or blogsite
- Writing articles or blog posts for other relevant sites
- Creating a professional Amazon profile (and or other booksellers) and writing reviews of relevant books
- Getting busy on other social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Clean up or supplant negative search results.
If you’ve posted any sensitive information or anything that makes you look bad, anywhere online, take it down.
If someone else posted it, see if they will take it down for you. When that’s not possible, you’ll need to build up more clean search results to supplant the bad ones.
Keep an eye on what people will find when they search “your name” by self-Googling regularly.
Take a look at your online footprint right now. Type your name into a Google search, and see what you find.
- Do you “own” the first several search results?
- Or does it take several pages of results before you get to anything related to you?
- If you have a common first and last name, are you distinguishable from the others with your name?
- What information will people find about you when they click on those search results?
- Is it what you need them to know about you and your potential value to the companies or organizations you want to work for?