Career Truth #1: Brand Or Be Branded

Several people have told me lately they don’t care about their online career identity. This is what they think…

“I should be able to do what I want.”

“My life shouldn’t be judged by employers based on what they see on the web.”

I say this: brand or be branded. You can either make sure people “hear what they see” in a way that boosts your credibility. Or, you can ignore your online presence and be seen as A) non-existent and unimportant, or perhaps even worse, B) the Dennis Rodman of the Net.

Trust Me, You’re Going To Want To Read This Story!

A little while back, a young woman reached out to me, supposedly “desperate” about her job search. Having graduated college last spring without landing a single interview, she claimed to have ‘tried everything’ and was sure she was doing something wrong. I looked at her resume, which had some things that could be improved, but her academic achievements were solid and in a specialized field.

Then, I checked her cover letter. It was pretty standard, but not bad. This made me wonder if her online identity was the issue. So, I decided to complete an Internet search on her – just as four out of five hiring managers do today. I put in her name and the school she graduated from. What popped up in the results shed some light. The number one item in the results was her Facebook picture. It was a blurry photo of her in a sweatshirt and her eyes were closed. Okay, so it was nothing terrible, but it also wasn’t a powerful first impression.

What Followed Was Much Worse…

You see, her Facebook photo also happened to be the ONLY thing that popped up about her. Nothing related to school, nothing related to volunteering, nothing related to her field of study… absolutely nothing. In fact, the next 10 entries thereafter were for someone with the same name but different middle initial who currently writes a very open and direct blog about an alternative lifestyle subject.

Now, is it frustrating to think she might actually be getting discriminated against because of an online search? Of course! This recent grad doesn’t have a lot of experience, which means her career identity is being branded as sub-par (and maybe even misinterpreted) from lack of solid professional online content. Yet, that doesn’t mean a person with this problem should sit in the sandbox and pound their fists. Any person, at any age, at any time in their career can build a strong online career identity.

The reality is that you only need 5-6 good things to come up in a search, so the top fold (the uppermost portion of the computer screen that shows the top search results) is filled with positive items about you. Why? Because people rarely, if ever, bother to scroll down or click on the next page of a search. They usually assume what is in the top fold is the most relevant.

So, how do you create and/or improve your online career identity?

Step 1: Identify Your Brand’s Keywords

Do a search on yourself and see what comes up. You may find someone with your name has coveted the top fold. From there, identify what keywords you can use to differentiate yourself from this person. Should you be using your full name? Your middle initial? Your affiliation with an organization or a type of work? Figure out how you want people to find you so you can build your brand around these keywords.

Step 2: Become A Blog Reader & Commenter

Begin reading career-related content on blogs for 10 minutes daily. This will help you stay-up-to date and in-the-know. Then, start posting thoughtful, well-written, professional comments on these blogs related to your field of interest. Don’t know where to find these blogs?

Go to – they are like a magazine rack of online blogs. There, you’ll be able to find dozens of blogs related to your career aspirations so that you can post comments to enhance your credibility as a knowledgeable member of your field/industry. Better still, if you are reading this, you are on a blog RIGHT NOW. So, take two extra minutes to post a comment and you’ll be on your way.

Step 3: Ask To Guest Post & Become A Subject-Matter Expert

Once you’ve got commenting down, it’s time to consider writing a guest blog post on a subject related to your career. After you’ve become a regular commenter on a particular site and feel you relate to their readership, contact them and ask if they would accept a guest post from you. Give them an overview of the topic you would write about. If they are interested, you can write the whole article, submit it, and voila – you are a published author on the Net.

Step 4: Get Your Twitter Brand Up And Running

Finally, get a Twitter account and learn the three key phases for leveraging its power for your career. Twittering is micro-blogging. Better still, it’s like instant messaging for professionals. It is an easy, fast way to connect with hundreds of like-minded people in a short period of time. You can be connected to 1,000’s of people in a matter of weeks. Better still, you can “tweet” to them which a hiring manager can read if they do a search on your Twitter account name. So, it’s like inviting an employer to see what you are like to converse with. A great way to brand yourself!

Does this sound like too much work? It’s really not, I promise. But, even if it does take a little effort, it’s worth it.

Here’s An Example:

One of our interns joined the marines and was deployed in Iraq. He did this so he could pay for college. When he came back to the university, he was contacted by a student who wanted to write a story about his experience. He’s an extremely humble person, but agreed to do the interview. The story posted online and it is an incredible look at what life is like there.

Now, he never told myself or the rest of our team about this. Actually, with his permission, I was the one that shared this online story with his fellow interns; many of whom have become friends with him in the last year and didn’t even know he served in the war.

So, how did I know?

As his potential employer, I looked him up. You can imagine how much his credibility went up in my mind when I saw and read the story. And, since joining our internship, he’s also begun blogging. At this point, he has a pretty incredible top fold – and he’s only a junior!

In summary, it’s like I said… brand or be branded.

Why risk having a lack of any career identity or a bad online presence just because you didn’t take control of the situation? Yes, getting your top fold to look good takes a little effort, but it can provide an incredible return on your time and energy investment.

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