binoculars 2“Do you surf?” I asked a room full of job seekers during a recent presentation on the power of reputation management. “Specifically, do you ‘ego surf’?”

Dead silence.

None of them knew what I meant by “ego surfing” — the practice of routinely checking your online reputation to see what shows up when someone Googles you.

Social media is a powerful indicator of how you’re perceived by people you may or may not know. Most job seekers never think to check their online reputation, and are stunned by what shows up when they finally do. Ego surfing is a great exercise and habit to get into so you’re never caught unaware when someone (particularly a hiring manager or recruiter) checks you out online.

I once spoke at a women’s event and Googled the names of a few of the attendees before the program began. I remember when I entered the unusual name of a woman named “Khatarina”: Google replied with two “hits” on her name. The first response Google returned was for a porn star! The second response had a link, which read, “If you want to do a background check on Khatarina, click here…”

Then Google tried different spellings of her unusual name, assuming I’d typed it in incorrectly. I shared this example in the presentation (changing the name, of course). A woman approached me immediately after I finished — ghost white — and said, “I think you were speaking about me, and I’ve been looking for a job for 18 months. I never thought to check what an employer can find about me online.”


Assume Your Employer (and Recruiters) Will Google You

Whether you looking for a new job, a better job or ways of building your network, assume the people you will meet will put your name into Google to learn more about you. What will they find? Does the information they find support the reputation you want to have? Is there false or misleading information about you that needs to be addressed?


Tragic Examples

Most people who search their online reputation find newspaper mentions, awards, announcements and company promotions in the results. However, I’ve heard many horror stories from people who’ve Google themselves and found:

  • Someone with the same name is in prison for murder
  • Someone with the same name — even the same middle initial — is the victim in a well-publicized murder trial
  • A fellow namesake is a less-than-scrupulous reality TV star
  • Someone with the same name is serving time for embezzlement (this was from a financial planner!)
  • Nothing


Fix Your Online Reputation

If you discover that your name erroneously appears next to the words “convicted,” “deceased,” or “appearing nightly,” there are several things you can do to correct the situation. Similarly, if someone Googles you and finds nothing (you are nowhere to be found online), this can give the impression that you’re irrelevant and uninteresting.

Your personal branding goal is to utilize every available tool to proactively promote the reputation you desire and distance yourself from the ones that do not represent you or your desired image. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Here’s how:

1. Add the content you want to see. Google indexes search results based on your frequency of posting, the consistency of your name (i.e. whether you post as John Bowden, J. Bowden or John P. Bowden) and the keywords in your messages. By proactively populating new content, you push the less favorable content down to later pages. To help make it easy for Google to find you online, set up several online profiles at popular social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Google Profiles, Yahoo Profiles, Twitter and Facebook. Then populate them with carefully crafted content that represents you in the light you desire.

2. Become active in social networking forums where your expertise and talent can be demonstrated. Yahoo and LinkedIn both offer groups and answer forums that allow you to share insights and information that you control.

3. Get automated alerts for your name. Set up a Google Alert or alerts so the search engines send you notifications every time your name appears online.

4. Start a blog. Blogs allow you to share more detailed content, along your expertise and/or interests, and are often indexed more aggressively if you post regularly. If you don’t want to write your own blog, then contribute to other blogs with meaningful and relevant content.

5. Remove any posts you have made that you regret. Go to the blogs, articles, forums and features and remove your comments if you still can.

6. Un-tag yourself from unflattering photos. The purpose of “tagging” a photo is to let you and others know that you’re in a picture. Many sites allow you to un-tag yourself and/or contact the person who posted the image and request they remove it.

A proactive strategy for building your presence online is both rewarding and fun. Why leave your reputation to chance? Ego surfing helps you see what others find about you online. You never want to walk into a meeting, interview or pitch and suddenly find yourself in the crosshairs of an unflattering reputation created online.

What gems have you turned up while doing your own ego surfing? Share in the comments!

Image: Photobucket