“What is in a name?” Juliet famously asked Romeo. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Perhaps Juliet would feel differently had she lived in the age of Google. Today, a name is not just a name. It is the gateway to a person’s online image, a key component of one’s personal brand. In the 21st Century, a “rose by any other name” would lead to a different search result.
For some, this is a blessing. “Did you mean ‘Favre?’” Google will ask if you search for “Brett Farve.” For others, this is a curse — just ask all the non-celebrity Will Smiths and Kristen Stewarts.
If you’re looking for a job or interested in building a successful career, then you must pay attention to the results of a Google search on your name. Recruiters, hiring managers, clients, colleagues, bosses, graduate school admissions officers and many others are checking you out online.
Fair or not, what they find will affect their opinion of you. According to a December 2009 Microsoft survey, 79 percent of United States hiring managers and job recruiters reviewed online information about job applicants. And 70 percent said they had actually rejected a job candidate because of something they found about that person online. The rejections may be prompted by situations where applicants have posted inappropriate material, such as party photos, on Facebook or Flickr, or Tweet daily about how much they hate their boss. If you Tweet daily about how much you hate your boss, this makes sense. But what if you’re not doing anything inappropriate? What if someone else with your same name is doing these things?
You’d be surprised how often we hear this concern from students and recent graduates. The good news is that there are several things you can do to own your online image even if you share ownership of your given name.
If you haven’t already, find out who else shares your name online. Google your name. You need to know what other people might find — and might associate with you — when they search on your name.
If you find that someone with your identical name is generating negative search results, such as a criminal record or offensive blog posts, you need to take action to make sure people don’t associate these things with you.
First, set up a Google Alert on your name and any common misspellings of it at www.google.com/alerts. This free service will send you an email whenever your name appears anywhere online in the future. You want to be aware of anything your online doppelganger is doing in case someone asks you about it or you suspect people are mistaking you with this other person. This will also help you track any places you appear online so you can draw more attention to these Web sites.
This brings us to the next important action: Post more positive and professional things about yourself online. The best way to overcome any negative search results (whether truly yours or owned by someone with your name) is to have more great search results about you. This includes setting up a strong professional LinkedIn profile and being consistently active on the site and setting up a professional Google profile. This also means contributing in a positive way elsewhere on the Web, such as writing book reviews on Amazon.com, commenting on your favorite professional blogs or writing bylined articles for a professional association Web site.
Third, create a consistent online identity. Choose one version of your name and a middle initial or set of numbers or letters following your name. Use this for your LinkedIn profile, Google profile, Twitter profile and any other place you represent yourself professionally online. For instance, if your name is Jane Doe and there are hundreds of Jane Does online, then you might claim the LinkedIn URL of www.linkedin.com/in/janezdoe if your middle name is Zoe or www.linkedin.com/in/janedoe500 if you like the number 500.
Professional-looking photos can also help to eliminate any confusion, particularly when you’ve had the opportunity to meet directly with potential employers.
Finally, and most importantly, be sure to drive people’s attention to the online image you’ve created for yourself. It’s most likely that someone will Google you after having some form of communication from you, so make sure that all of your communications provide people with guidance for finding you online. Add your LinkedIn profile to your resume, business cards, email signature, voice mail message or any place else that represents you to people. When you meet someone in person, you can even say, “I have a really common name, so if you need to find me online, remember that I’m JaneDoe500.”
If you’re in the opposite situation and have a very uncommon or difficult-to-spell name, the above tips can work for you as well. No matter what your name situation, you must take ownership of how people find and perceive you online. Your name is not just your name; it’s your reputation.