There was a time when looking for work meant crafting a sharp resume package, identifying target employers, and deciding what you would send (and say) to each. You were the master of what prospective employers knew, and when they knew it.
Now, not so much.
In 2012, your reputation precedes you. Your skills, achievements, connections and personal life are being judged daily by others, including many of your future employers. Websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google are our “living resumes,” representing key slices of our image. LinkedIn tells employers what you’ve done on a career level, and who you may know. Facebook offers a glimpse into your personal life and with whom you associate. Google tells us, well, just about everything else. There are companies that will gather background information about you for a fee, but most employers will look you up on their own. It would be unimaginable these days, legal or not, for an employer to make a significant hiring decision without searching online. They’re verifying your hiring package, trying to gauge your fit in the organization, and looking to see if there’s anything that makes you a hiring disaster.
Instead of thinking of future job moves as something you control, think of them as more likely driven by your day-to-day personal brand management right now. Think of your career track as the result not of a resume here or there, but as the product of a permanent, ongoing campaign. Build your online image accordingly. Use LinkedIn, Facebook and similar sites to create and promote your personal brand, and be proactive about it. Don’t wait until you’re actually looking for work. That’s far too late.
Some things to consider:
- If you’re not actively using sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, do so immediately. They’re great places to build your brand and reputation, and they give you great control over your image. Skipping sites like these poses the risk of having others define you online, through their own postings. Those postings might be positive, of course. But they might not be. Controlling your own brand online minimizes the possibility that future employers might rule you out because of an isolated derogatory reference or post.
- Having a presence online tells prospective employers you’re a force in your line of work. Being invisible in search results isn’t a good thing. Employers, even when you don’t know they’re looking, want evidence of your achievements and impact in your profession. “No results found” will not impress hiring officials.
- Google yourself regularly. I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me they’ve never run a search using their own name. Know what others see when they Google you.
- Assume everything you post will be seen by prospective employers. Never rely on website privacy settings or “walls” to protect your postings.
- Post pictures prudently. In the past, photographs weren’t searchable. In the foreseeable future, photos will be as searchable as text. Rule of thumb (and career-preservation tip): Don’t post any image of yourself on any website that you wouldn’t want your mother to see. I mentioned a year ago that Google had acquired a company called PittPatt (for Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition), which developed extremely clever software for image analysis and facial recognition. Google did not announce its plans for PittPatt’s software, but it’ s a fair bet that face-recognition searches are coming. And it’s not just faces. “Image analysis” software like PittPatt’s will probably be able to match other visual elements as well, including symbols, backgrounds and of course the faces of others in the same photo or video.
- Don’t assume the web’s unmanaged version of your personal and professional life will resemble the truth. Take control of your reputation, in part by creating and maintaining information that will accurately and coherently present you to prospective employers.
- Use Google Alerts. Set them up using as many variations of your name as you feel comfortable. This valuable free service will email you each time Google detects a new reference to your name online.