We've heard the message -- loud and clear -- that employers are using social media and Google to screen candidates. But what if you don't like what they'll find when they Google you?
For example, remember that snarky comment you made on The Huffington Post? It's not so funny when it ranks No. 2 on a search for your name. Alternatively, what if you've been in trouble with the law? Or, as one of my students did, you share a name with a porn star?
These are all valid questions, and reveal why online reputation management is critical these days. And while every situation -- just like every search -- is different, you may have a bit more control over your Google search results than you may think. So, if you want to put your best Web-foot forward and own the search for your name, here are the first things you should do to manage your personal brand and control your online reputation. Note: This advice also works if you have the opposite problem, meaning you're living in a Google ghost town with practically nothing about you online.
Don't just sign up or maintain a skeletal presence. Make sure your profile is 100 percent complete. LinkedIn ranks very high in Google, so the more applicable content you have on your profile, the better.
Own Your Domain
Purchase your-name-dot-com from a host site and start a Web site or blog. The good news here is that you can use the blog to promote yourself (or your business) and control what shows up on Google at the same time. A warning, though: While blogs are cheap and relatively easy to set up, don't start one unless you have the discipline and writing skills to maintain it. An untended blog grows the equivalent of "digital weeds" that will undermine the positive impression you're trying to make. However, if you do decide to launch a blog, the Google-owned Blogger.com blogging platform ranks crazy-high in searches. Coincidence? Another option is Wordpress, where you can incorporate your name into your blog URL, which can also improve your search rank. Remember it's always best to have your own domain.
Claim Your Name
According to Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, you should own your name on all of the top social networks. In addition to the Big Three (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), if you want to view a list of additional sites where your name is available, Schawbel recommends KnowEm.com. (Warning: I visited KnowEm, and it's a little addictive.)
Get Some Press
Because media hits also tend to fall exceptionally high on Google, get yourself covered. Find a reporter to write about your volunteer project, write an article for a business journal or guest post on a popular blog you follow. The trick here is to keep it going so you can (hopefully) bury whatever it is you don't want people to locate under an avalanche of things you do. Also, your comments on high-profile sites can show up in results as well, so use them as an opportunity for others to see you at your very best.
While this advice does work, if you have more serious issues -- like a rap sheet -- the truth will come out eventually. As such, it's a waste of time to try to manipulate search results. That's not to say you shouldn't be doing steps 1 through 4. On the contrary, it's more important for you to do them than ever. But since you won't be able to hide behind clean results for long, be prepared to articulately and compellingly discuss the mistakes of your past and how you've grown away from them.
Finally, I promise not to get too technical on you, but the phenomenon we know as "Google Web presence" is really nothing more than an algorithm entitled PageRank (named for Google founder Larry Page, not actual Web pages). It's a pretty complex formula but, at the core, PageRank is about one thing: relevancy. In other words, the more popular the Web page -- that is, the more links, eyeballs and applicable keywords it has -- the higher it will rank in search results. As the title of this piece notes, it's a science. The art is up to you.