Employment-related screening tools were the focus of conversation last week in the human-resources class I teach. As I expected, there were plenty of questions about how employers use Internet searches to make decisions about applicant suitability and a fair amount of outrage about how completely unfair employers are when it comes to using digital content to make hiring decisions.
While employers may deny they are using Google and other tools to evaluate your employment suitability, trust me, they are. In fact, they are typing your name into search engines early and often. Given that, it is up to you to be savvy about how to make a positive impression and reveal your true persona.
When it comes to determining who you really are, hiring authorities want to answer five key questions:
1. Do you show up? From time to time I will search for someone and find only tax records or a number in the white pages. I find this disconcerting because it is so unusual. I wonder, “Did this person purge everything about him/herself?” or worse, “Is this person too boring and unaccomplished to have any presence on the Web?”
2. Is it too easy to find everything about you? Most people are smart enough to master basic Facebook privacy settings, but if I can see everything about you, I may wonder why this is. Are you reckless, or are you clueless? These are not good questions for anyone to be asking about you.
3. Is your online presence a glitzy commercial or an accurate description of who you are? For reasons that I do not understand, LinkedIn users are often tempted to create infomercial-like entries that exaggerate their talents and abilities. Call me uptight, but when I see people who describe themselves as “dynamic thought leaders,” I start to get nervous.
4. What is the company you keep? There is a certain segment of LinkedIn and Twitter users I call “collectors"—people who delight in driving up their number of connections. I have to admit to being suspicious about those with hundreds or thousands of “loose ties” to individuals in widely disparate disciplines. My preference is to see a more cohesive community of connections linked by discipline, industry, organization, or geography.
5. Are you too visible? Visibility is good. Overexposure is bad. Ranting letters to the editor, random and vitriolic blog entries, constant and middle-of-the-night Facebook entries or Twitter comments, and too many pictures of cars or cats on Pinterest make me wonder about how smartly you use your time.
You have the power to shape the way others see you online, so it’s wise to be a bit proactive. As a first step, Google yourself to see what others might find. Next, ask a couple of colleagues to describe the person they uncover when search for your name. Based on what you learn from Steps 1 and 2, begin to create, edit, or revamp your online content to craft the image you want to project.
Employers are paying attention. You should too.