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Some time ago, while at a political event, I had several opportunities to be interviewed by newspaper reporters. While I contributed to their stories, I did so anonymously. Why? Simple. I conduct business on the web and am acutely aware of the importance of managing and controlling my online identity. While I absolutely believe in keeping my business and my politics separate, that isn’t the most important reason for my decision. Rather, when a customer, potential customer, or business associate searches on my name, I don’t necessarily want political articles coming to the forefront of the search results. At the top of my search results I want my business websites, the websites promoting my books and products, business-related articles I have written, my blog and LinkedIn profile, and other professional sites. I want to maintain some level of control over the professional image and personal brand that I display to the world.
Managing your online presence and identity in this way is important for every professional and is especially crucial when you are looking for a job. When a recruiter targets you as a potential candidate for a job opening, more often than not the first thing they do is to go to the web and search on your name to see what pops up.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can separate your personal online presence from your professional one; you can’t. Nor should you want to. A good online presence is a mesh of the professional and personal–creating a rounded and positive image of who you are and what you can do. On the other hand, it is wise to be prudent about what you release to the public domain. Topics such as religion and politics are often controversial and have the potential to cause bias in others’ perceptions of you.
You may be reading this and thinking, “That’s not a problem I face; I don’t have an online identity.” But, if I were a betting person, I would bet that you’re wrong. If you’ve ever used the Internet, then there is a strong chance that you’ve established an online presence. Using social networking sites, commenting on blogs or articles, reviewing a book, posting your resume–all of these things create an online presence. So the question isn’t, “Do you have an online presence?”, but “How does that online presence make you look?” And if you’re job hunting, the answer to that question is paramount.
Okay, the next question in your mind may be this; “Why is what I do personally any business of yours?” The answer is simple: Most employers are looking for more than just skill-set and experience. They are also looking for people whose personality will fit in with their company. So they are going to take an interest in your personal profile as well as your professional one. Everything you do–from your Facebook page to uploaded photos of your latest trip to Spain–is susceptible to scrutiny by a potential employer seeking to learn more about you. So make sure what they find is something you want them to see. The last thing you want is for some recruiter to Google your name and find a photo of you drunk and happy, dancing bikini-clad on a beach in Cancun. Will this eliminate you for consideration? Maybe. Maybe not. But, is this the impression that you want to make on your future boss and co-workers?
Since it’s out there and someone just might see it, you need to see it too. So go ahead, Google yourself. If you don’t like what you see-even if what you are seeing is nothing–do something about it. There is a plethora of ways to establish a good online identity: networking sites, blogs, and personal web pages are just a few methods of getting your name out there in a positive way. I always recommend that professionals involved in a job search create a LinkedIn profile. An online career portfolio that includes downloadable versions of your resume are another good idea.
The bottom line is, when it comes to the Internet and managing your online presence, there simply is no separation of personal and professional. So make sure that every action you take online works towards creating an image you want the world to see. Because whether you like it or not, we will eventually see it.
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