If someone searches for you on the web and comes up empty-handed, do you exist?
Considering that a growing number of recruiters and hiring managers are using search engines when gathering impressions of potential employees, the question isn't as frivolous as it may seem.
In a 2006 survey by executive search firm ExecuNet in Norwalk, 77 of 100 recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In a CareerBuilder.com survey of 1,150 hiring managers last year, one in four said they use internet search engines to research potential employees. One in 10 said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. In fact, according to Search Engine Watch, there are 25 million to 50 million proper-name searches performed each day.
In today's job market, turning up missing on the Web may not be a fatal flaw, and it's probably better than having a search result in a photo of you in a hula skirt. But over time, the lack of a web presence - particularly for IT professionals - may well turn from a neutral to a negative, says Tim Bray, director of web technologies at Sun Microsystems.
"Particularly because we're a core technology provider, if someone came looking for a senior-level job and had left no mark on the internet, I'd see that as a big negative," he says.
And it's not just about technology, Bray says. "Most companies would rather have somebody who has demonstrated the propensity to contribute, and one [sign] of that is going out and getting involved, joining in the discussion."
However, younger job seekers are more likely to participate in web activities than older workers, says Jennifer Stitt, a technical recruiter at Cigital, a software security and quality consultancy in Dulles, Va. "We have to be very careful not to fall prey to the belief that because a 45-year-old doesn't have as much out there to be found when Googling, they aren't a good candidate," she says.
Still, says Nolan Bayliss, founder of Naymz, an online identity services provider in Chicago, "someone who has no information online might be perceived as not being as tech-savvy as someone else."
Here are five tips to make yourself more findable on the web.
Know where people look
If you haven't done so already, check what people will discover about you through popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo, as well as the lesser-used MSN Search or Ask.com, Bayliss says. Review at least the first three to five pages of results.
Some recruiters use blog-searching tools such as Technorati, Daypop or Blogdigger. They may also search specific sites, such as MySpace, YouTube or Flickr, or even lesser-known sites they themselves frequent, such as LibraryThing.com, says Rick Umali, a technical consultant at Endeca Technologies Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Check to see what they'll discover.
Start a blog
Some companies sponsor corporate blogs and encourage employee participation. But you can also establish your own through free blog hosting sites on the web, such as Blogger.com, LiveJournal.com, Blog-City.com, Xanga.com and MSN Spaces, as well as TypePad.com, Squarespace.com, BlogIdentity.com and Bubbler.com, which charge a small fee.
To further the impression that you're part of a wider industry conversation, you can also create a "blog roll," with links to important industry publications, experts and other blogs, Bayliss suggests.
If you're not yet ready to start your own blog, you can simply begin posting to a technology-oriented blog such as Slashdot.com or Thescripts.com. Be sure to use your full professional name on anything you post, and include a link to the Web profile or page that you want people to see first when they search on your name, Bayliss says. "The more sites that link to your page, the higher that page will display in the search engine results," he says.
But before joining in any discussion, listen. "Get a feeling of what the conversation is like and what's said," Bray suggests.
Join the open-source code community
Umali is thinking about contributing some fixes or additional functionality to the open-source code he uses on his blog, thereby getting credit for it on a site such as SourceForge.net, which is a repository of open-source software. "It provides a tracker for bugs or patches that will be associated with your name," he says.
Build a web page
Umali created his own web page years ago to publish some of his writing. Today, his page reflects not just his personality but also his technical strengths and capabilities. For instance, he uses open-source technologies on his page, which demonstrates his capabilities in that area. "When I notice that in other people's websites, I figure it's not just this thing they picked up reading a book; they've applied it," he says.
He also established his own domain name, Rickumali.com, for the page. "A domain name says, 'This person is up on what's going on in the web industry,' " he says. Some reputable domain name registrars include GoDaddy.com, Register.com and Network Solutions.
Create a web profile
Consider creating a web profile on one of the many social and business networking sites. Some, such as Naymz, Ziggs, FindMeOn.com and ClaimID.-com, allow you to create an online identity or, if you already have several, manage them all in one place. After creating a profile, you can link to any other places where you are mentioned or "exist" on the Web, Bayliss says.
Some of these sites offer to boost your findability factor as well as help protect your reputation. For instance, both Naymz and Ziki ensure that a search on your name through a popular search engine will result in your profile appearing at the top of the page, helping to draw attention to "the real you" and, if necessary, to bury other material you'd rather people didn't see.
Sidebar: be careful out there!
If you decide to make your mark on the web, be careful about what you say. In a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, one in four hiring managers used Internet search engines to research job candidates. Fifty-one percent of them said they didn't hire someone based on what they found. Here are some of the reasons candidates didn't make the cut:
31 percent lied about qualifications.
25 percent had poor communication skills.
24 percent were linked to criminal behavior.
19 percent bad-mouthed a previous employer or co-worker.
19 percent posted information about drinking or using drugs.
15 percent shared confidential information from previous employers.
12 percent lied about an absence from work.
11 percent posted provocative or inappropriate photographs.
8 percent used unprofessional screen names.
Source: September 2006 CareerBuilder.com survey of 1,150 hiring managers