Career Coach: Know your online identity

April 17, 2011

Remember when you first got a cell phone and it felt so great to be able to call other people whenever you wanted to talk? You could be shopping, walking or eating and you had the convenience of calling someone. But then, of course, it did get a little inconvenient once you realized that other people could also call you whenever they wanted to talk. So much for privacy and down time.

Now, enter the world of the Internet — where anyone can find more about you than perhaps you ever wanted them to know. It’s great when we want to be in control and find answers. And sometimes, it’s great when others find us — maybe a long-lost friend or someone offering us a job. But what about all that other stuff about us that’s all over the Internet?

Recently, an executive I know told me he felt he lost some of his privacy by having a business. He said he understands the benefits of the Internet and publicizing his business, but he also laments the fact that everyone can find out all kinds of things about him — many of which he didn’t put there and some of which are inaccurate. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, people can still put photos and stories about you on their accounts. Then someone searches your name and there you are . . . partying away.

On the plus side, companies and recruiters are using the Internet more to search out job candidates rather than waiting for candidates to contact them. The Corporate Executive Board in Arlington said 80 percent of companies polled planned to increase their use of social media for recruiting in 2011.

This is great news, but are you prepared for what they will find out about you? Have you even seen what’s out there on you?

It is important to monitor your online identity. Perhaps the first thing you need to do is to accept that you have an online identity. While this may initially frustrate some of you, you have to recognize that this can actually be a good thing. You now can have some control over how others perceive you professionally and personally.

There are many suggestions for managing your online identity. These are described below, including some from Ford Myers, author of “Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring.”

•Own your name by registering a domain in your own name so that you can build a Web site, establish an online career portfolio or create a blog that is searchable by your name. You can start inexpensively by getting the best deal on one of the following domain providers: 1&1 Internet, Go Daddy or Netfirms. Make sure the site is pointing to something like a blog or information portal.

•For your career Web site, include your professional expertise, with the depth of your experience, credentials and accomplishments. You can include links to your articles, presentations, awards and major career achievements.

•Make sure your online information is consistent with your resume.

•Use LinkedIn, Facebook or other sites to establish a professional profile and expand your network. Remember that it may be difficult to keep two separate online identities for your professional and personal needs. Sometimes information gets mixed in together even though you think it might be private.

•Be vigilant about what you do or say that can end up on the Internet. Track your online identity. Set up a “Google Alert” or “TweetBeep” to notify you each time your name is featured on the Internet. There are numerous other ways to check your online identity for free or you can pay for such services. For example, Reputation.com will search the Internet for information tied to your name and send you reports of what it finds for a monthly fee.

•Periodically, review what is out there on you. Use different search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) to see what exists. View these sites from an outsider’s perspective or ask someone to take a look and provide his view on how you come across online. Clean up any embarrassing photos, comments or inaccuracies.

•Keep your profiles up to date. Be in control of your own personal branding — how you want people to see you. Check your visibility score on the Web using WebMii. If you have a blog, update it often since Google likes new material. You can also go directly to the publisher or Web site administrator if you don’t like what is being said or want to have material removed.

No matter how much you personally use a computer, you have an online identity. It’s time to find out what it looks like, and whether that’s what you want it to be.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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