You're about to interview for a new job. You've polished your resume and crafted the perfect cover letter. You've got your references and talking points all lined up.
But have you Googled yourself lately?
Many job candidates spend hours preparing for an important interview, but they fail to pay attention to their "online resume," or how they're reflected in the top 10 Google search results, says Andy Beal, CEO of Trackur, a social media monitoring company.
It's a given these days that an employer will Google any serious candidate and look at their first page of search results. "As an employer myself, I dont really do background checks anymore," Beal says. "Instead, I Google candidates to see what shows up."
Looking great on Google can take time and effort—and it's never too early to get started. Here are 10 online reputation management tips to help you put your best foot forward online.
1. Be Careful What You Share Online.
The search engines are digging deeper into Facebook, Twitter and other information sharing services to index as much relevant content as possible about people, places and things, Beal notes. "Personal information, such as your birth date and year, can easily bubble up to the surface of search results when you least expect it," he says.
For example, a Hollywood producer suddenly discovered that his year of birth was showing up in his brief bio that Google recently began displaying to the right of his search results. (As part of Google's recent Knowledge Graph rollout, the search engine now displays brief bios of noted people next to their search results.) The producer is facing age discrimination and wants to get the year of birth removed from his mini Google bio but has not yet been successful.
"Once a cat like that is out of the bag, it's hard to put it back in," Beal says. "It becomes a matter of public record. That's why I counsel everyone to never [list] your date of birth or anything else you don't want to end up all over the Internet. If nothing else, the more information someone can piece together about you, the greater the potential for identity theft."
As always, don't post photos of yourself on Facebook partying wildly or doing something you wouldn't want potential employers to see. Of course, you can restrict your Facebook content to friends and friends of friends, as well as only allow invited people to view your tweets. However, privacy settings seemingly change all the time, so it still pays to err on the side of caution. Plus, there have been accounts of job candidates being asked to log into their Facebook accounts during an interview with potential bosses, Beal notes.
2. Start Managing Your Online Reputation Now—Even If You're Not Looking For a Job.
It's important to Google yourself well in advance before applying for a new job, says Beal. If you do it in advance, you've got time to take down or create new content that might push down anything negative, Beal advises. And don't just Google yourself once—Google yourself often while you're actively seeking employment.
Ideally, a potential employer will find a number of positive results about you, such as projects worked on, LinkedIn endorsements and a Facebook page that shows you in a positive light. The next best thing is "not finding anything about you at all," Beal says. The worst-case scenario, of course, is finding foul language in tweets, Facebook updates about taking a sick day off to party and so on.
3. Hide Personalized Search Results.
When Googling yourself, always turn off personalized search results, Beal notes, since Google doesn't present the same search results to everyone. Instead, the search engine will serve up what it thinks you'll find most relevant, taking into account such things as your location, social network and sites you've visited.
Google recently added a button to hide personal results, which will give you a more objective view of your search results. When you're logged into Google, you'll find it in the upper right corner of the search results pages, as shown here.
4. Look Past the First Page of Search Results.
Most employers, clients or others won't bother looking past the first page of your search results, especially if they find positive things about you on page 1. You should still look at page 2 of your results, though, Beal advises. That's because content on page 2 could suddenly appear on page 1—and if that content doesn't reflect well on you, then you've got an online reputation problem.
5. Own As Many "Slots" As Possible on Google's Page 1.
Search engines perceive such social media sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as authoritative, which means content on those sites has a strong chance of hitting the first page of search results for a relevant keyword. To be proactive, set up and maintain profiles on those sites and optimize them properly, says Patrick Ambron, CEO and founder of Brand Yourself, a personal online reputation management service.
While the thought of being on a bunch of social media sites may make you cringe, at least claim your profile and URL, such as facebook.com/yourname. This prevents others from getting that URL and potentially diluting your Google search results, Ambron says. Fill out your social media profiles as completely as possible and link them to each other, he adds. The more you do this, the more Google will see all these links as relevant to you.
6. Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile.
LinkedIn is particularly important for job seekers— yet too many people don't fully optimize their profiles, says Nick Parham, a San Francisco-based career counselor and LinkedIn marketing expert.
Don't use the first person when writing about yourself on LinkedIn (or, for that matter, Twitter), Parham advises. Using the third person sounds more professional. Also, by using your name in your profile, you reinforce to Google that this LinkedIn page is highly relevant to a search about you. Use your full name at least twice in your profile, especially at the beginning of your LinkedIn profile. You can also put your name in your LinkedIn profile headline. However, for later references in your profile, primarily use your last or first name only. Bottom line: Make sure your profile reads naturally.
Use keywords throughout your LinkedIn profile that describe what you currently do and/or the types of jobs you're going for, Parham recommends. For example, if you're a mobile application developer or going for a job in that field, put the keyword phrase "mobile app development" prominently in your LinkedIn headline, summary, skills and in previous job titles or experience. If possible, ask others to use your keywords in their recommendations of you.
Finally, make sure you have a LinkedIn URL with your name in it, as it may help your profile rank higher in Google search results, Parham advises. On LinkedIn, go to your profile settings and claim a vanity URL that includes your name.
7. Buy As Many Domains That Include Your Name As Possible.
When ranking content for relevancy, Google puts a lot of emphasis on the words within a URL. So if there's a Web page, blog or site that's all about you, and it's located at yourname.com, chances are great that Google will rank that content number one (or at the top) of your search results, Ambron advises.
Why buy more than one domain if you don't plan to use them? Ambron says it's important to own as many as you can to prevent others with the same name from owning those URLs. While that may seem greedy, its actually a defensive reputation management strategy. "I know of one case in which someone bought URLs with another person's name in them, put up a bunch of embarrassing websites using those URLs, and then tried to extort money from the victim," he explains.
8. Create a Personal Website, Blog or Web Page and Point Your Best URL At It.
In addition to your social media accounts, create a comprehensive Web page that's all about you, with your accomplishments, personal interests and professional background, Ambron says. Include links to other positive content about you on the Web, too. The search engines will see this site or page as highly relevant to you and, thus, are likely to rank it highly, especially when you use a URL with your name in it.
WordPress and Blogger (owned by Google) are free, easy-to-use content management systems that will enable you to easily build a Web presence, Beal says. Also, those domains tend to rank highly in Google search results.
To get a head start identifying social media network and URLs you can "own" with your name, go to KnowEm, Beal advises. This basic free service will help you quickly find available URLs across the Web.
9. Tackle Negative Stuff Head On.
Is there something negative about you on page one of Google that you can't control—say, a newspaper report mentioning an arrest? If so, don't ignore it in job interviews, Beal says, as you can be sure your potential employer saw it. Be open about it in your interview, and consider listing a link to the newspaper report on your resume, as well as a link to a subsequent report that shows the charges were dropped (if that's the case).
If the negative content is buried deep on page 2 or 3 of your results, don't bring it to an employer's attention—he or she might not have seen it. However, you should be prepared with a thoughtful, honest and well-rehearsed explanation of what happened in case you're asked.
10. Optimize Your Images.
Image searches on Google are becoming increasingly popular, especially if someone is researching a job candidate. As a result, make sure that images you post online are optimized with your name, Ambron says. Put your name in the image caption, the "alt text" HTML tag and even in the image file name. These three steps will help your pictures rank highly for an image search on your name.
James A. Martin is an SEO and social media consultant and writes the CIO.com Martin on Mobile Apps blog. Follow him on Twitter. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.