Manage Your 'Screen Name' for a Successful Job Search

lovely woman in rabbit costume...
ShutterstockWhat do you do when recruiters are Googling you, but you share a name with a Playboy playmate?

When someone (like a recruiter) searches for you on Google or LinkedIn, who pops up on their computer screen: you, or other people with a name that's the same or similar to your own?

Many job seekers think that not appearing in search results is demonstrating maturity and good taste. In fact, invisibility (having no entries in the first page of search results in a search on their name) makes them vulnerable to mistaken identity and, also, to looking out-of-date. Either result can end an opportunity--perhaps many opportunities.

Employers research job applicants

Like anyone contemplating an expensive "purchase," employers research job candidates on the Internet using search engines before they hire someone. A CareerBuilder study showed that a "bad hire" (someone who doesn't work out) can cost the employer as much as $50,000. So a new hire is an expensive risk, and researching candidates before hiring them is a good way for employers to try to avoid a costly mistake.

Recent studies show between 50 percent and 90 percent of employers perform those searches, and that number has been increasing. In the last three years, I haven't spoken with a single recruiter who didn't answer "yes" to the question about online research of candidates. Often, they do the research before they interview the candidate--and certainly before they hire the candidate. What they find is very important to those candidates' chances of landing a job.

Why job seekers should research their names

I recently helped a job seeker who is a computer programmer determine the best name to use for her job search. I found some very interesting people, associated with different versions of her name, including the following:

• A Playboy "Playmate of the Month" from a couple of years ago
• The mug shot of a woman being sought by the police for stabbing her boyfriend
• The obituary of 93-year old woman who died in a different part of the country
• An interior decorator with a great deal of visibility, including appearances on national TV

The job seeker opted to use the version of her name associated with the obituary, since that was the version of she used most often--and clearly, if she was applying for a job, she wasn't dead. She avoided the other versions of her name because she didn't want a potential employer to think she was wanted by the law or had experience and visibility in a field an employer would not expect--or necessarily want--for a programmer.

Self-defense for job seekers

People often shy away from Googling themselves because they don't want to be accused of "ego surfing," which sounds very shallow and self-centered. Ignore that concern. Considering the example above, I call searching on your name "defensive Googling," because that's what it is. Defensive!

You can't address or fix a problem if you don't know you have one. Know what Google will show an employer associated with your name. Otherwise, you are at risk of being disqualified because of someone else's activities, or because something you have posted shows you in a bad light.

The best strategy is to regularly (at least once a month) search in Google and Bing to see what is being shown to employers related to your name. Search on the version of your name you use on LinkedIn and in your resumes. Then search on other versions of your name--with and without your middle name or middle initial. You're trying to find a "clean" version of your name--one without anyone else's "digital dirt" stuck to it--and to avoid versions of your name that could lead a potential employer to avoid you.

Be consistent!

When you find a clean version of your name, consistently use that version of your name for your professional visibility. This doesn't mean that you need to legally change your name. You simply choose the best version to use for your LinkedIn profile, resume, and other job search activities and visibility.

A job seeker I know called himself Edward, Ed, or Eddie, depending on the job he was applying for. On LinkedIn, he called himself "Edward J." This created confusion for employers trying to research him, so Ed now officially calls himself "Edward J." on all of his job search documents and professional visibility. This "connects the dots" for employers and recruiters researching him.
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