Wednesday, May 22, 2013

7 steps for building a strong Internet brand

New grads and job seekers, take a moment right now to Google your name. Why? Because chances are, prospective employers are doing it too. A Microsoft survey found that some 79% of employers Google a job candidate's name during the evaluation process. They are analyzing what's called your "Internet brand," which is your image and reputation online.

The importance of your Internet brand can't be underestimated when searching for jobs and internships. Consider these statistics from Mashable.com:

  • 90% of employers use social networking sites to screen prospective employees
  • 68% of employers have hired people based on what they found on the Internet and social media sites
  • 69% of employers have rejected candidates that they've liked based on what they found on the Internet and social media sites
Specifically, two major reasons for rejection are "trashing an employer on social media" (and I'll add in trashing a university, for that matter), and "inappropriate language on social media," according to a Corporate Executive Board study.

WHO ARE YOU? Building your Internet brand is crucial to job hunting success
However, building a strong, authentic online brand can give you a major competitive gain over your peers. Your brand should be highly visible, showcase your capabilities and character in a positive way, and grab prospective employers' attention. While your resume is a very important part of your job search, you are more than a flat piece of paper. Your Internet brand allows you to create a 3-D image of yourself and also demonstrate with examples some of your skills, rather than just talk about it on a resume. Here's a step-by-step guide for how job seekers can build a strong online brand.

1. Google your name. If you haven't done so already, search your name on Google. The first page of Google returns is your Internet brand. What shows up on the first page of results? Are you on there? Are other people with your name on there? Is that your brand that you want employers to see? If anything about you is appearing, do you like what you see? Print this page and mark what you think is the good, bad, and ugly. We'll come back to this later.

2. Choose your Internet name. You might have a couple different names, nicknames, and usernames you use online and offline. Pick one and stick with it online. This helps cement who you are in Google's eyes. The search engine will be more apt to understand that the James Peter Camden on Google Plus is the same James Peter Camden on Twitter. If you switch between James Peter Camden and Jim Camden, for instance, Google might think you are two different people, which can dilute your digital identity.

3. Separate professional and personal content. Determine what you want employers to see about you. Equally importantly, decide what you don't want employers to see. Employers can see anything you make public online -- including Facebook photos and posts, tweets, etc. You might want to share funny photos with your friends, but do you want an employer to see them? Probably not. Think through what your professional and personal content will be. Set your privacy settings appropriately in social media.

4. Brainstorm how to showcase your skills, values, and character. Identify what you want to add to your Internet brand to demonstrate key components of your character and experience that would be of interest to an employer. You are designing your Internet brand at this point. A good way to showcase your character is to describe your activities, hobbies, accomplishments, sports, and skills in your various online profiles, such as LinkedIn and Google Plus. What organizations and clubs are you a member of? Where do you volunteer? Where have you traveled? What awards and honors have you received? Information like this helps paint a well-rounded picture of your character, values, and passion -- all crucial factors employers weigh in candidates. Then make a list of this information to be used later when you create your Internet brand.

5. Clean up your social networks, blogs, and websites. Time to take action and prepare for your job search and for employers to see you on the Internet. Look at all of your sites from the public view, and remove content and adjust privacy settings as needed. You can still have Facebook, but control who can see what. Similarly, be selective about who you add to your various social networks and what you allow them to see. You might not want to connect with a recruiter on Facebook, for instance. LinkedIn is probably better. Also, be sure you have a professional email address to provide employers, not something funky. Your best bet is to simply use your first initial and last name. Have a professional email signature and voicemail greeting, too.

6. Determine where to publish new content. The way to eliminate bad content in your Internet brand is to publish and re-publish content that you want to be seen by employers. In this way, the bad content is pushed down to the second page and does not show up when an employer Googles your name and on the first page -- your internet brand. There are two components to publishing new content. Where you publish is just as important as what you publish. Google ranks websites and content based on its determination of their value and authority. It places more weight on high-value, relevant information on authoritative websites. So major news sites like The New York Times, large social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, and highly trafficked sources like universities and corporations are just a few examples of well-ranked sites. It's important to note that Google owns many online services, including Google Plus, Blogger, and YouTube. Many search engine optimization (SEO) professionals tend to believe Google places more weight on these sites as a result. So consider what sites you want and are able to publish to, including blogging platforms (such as Blogger and Wordpress) and social networks.

7. Develop and publish content. You can create new content or repurpose content you have. Think about files you have -- PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheets, or research papers you have written -- that you can reuse and publish on various websites to demonstrate your skills. Skills that you talk about in your resume -- such as analytical thinking, comprehension of complex material or laws, excellent written communication, and presentation capabilities -- can be seen directly by publishing these examples. So in addition to creating an excellent Internet brand, you are creating that 3-D image of yourself which fills out your resume image. Use the websites you've identified as good places for publishing, and begin feeding content to those places. Your content should showcase your capabilities, knowledge, skills, and character. Here are some ideas and pointers:
  • Create a profile on about.me, where you can feature your bio, photo, social handles, contact information, and other data to tell employers who you are and what you do.
  • Repurpose content you already have. This could include assignments you did especially well on, such as a PowerPoint presentation, term paper, or research paper. You might try pasting text-based work directly into posts on a blog. You can also upload presentations to SlideShare, videos to YouTube, and photos to Flickr or Pinterest. You can then embed this content into blog posts to create a central portfolio of your work.
  • Sanitize the material. There might be confidential or private information in your work, such as names of people or companies. Remove any private information before publishing content. You could use a different name, and note that the actual name has been changed for privacy.
  • Cross-link your profiles. You need to put all your websites in as many places as possible to increase the possibility of Google's search robot finding them to include in your Internet brand. For instance, you can list up to three websites on your LinkedIn profile. These could be your blog, Twitter, and Pinterest pages perhaps. Twitter lets you display one website, so add whatever site is the most central location for information about you. About.me allows you to list up to seven of your websites. Repeat this method across all your digital properties.
Once you've completed all these steps, your work is not done. You should continuously manage your online brand by continuing to publish interesting, high-value content that showcases your knowledge, skills, and accomplishments. Google yourself periodically to see how you're doing.

If you're interested in learning more on this topic, watch this video where I presented on your Internet brand and job search. In the video I walked through an example of how I've done this for myself, which can help you better understand how to apply the steps to your own online brand. You can also read more on creating your digital identity at our Career Services page. If you're a Post University student, be sure to visit our Career Services website and Facebook page for more advice and tips on finding a job and advancing your career. And feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the comments!