April 15, 2009

What is your online brand?

Let's go back to a recent posting where I gave a snippet of a conversation between two people that I've heard all too often.

"Did you hear what happened to Rachel yesterday?"

"No, what?"

"Remember the job she applied for last week at that new store in the mall? Well she had an interview with the manager and everything went great. The manager even did reference checks.

"Yeah, so what happened?"

"Well she didn't get the job."


"Remember those photos on Facebook she took at the party when she did the beer pong? Well the manager searched her name in Google and that's what came up first!"

"Uh oh!"

I received a few e-mails from readers who wanted to know what I meant by discussing the conversation and information that's online.

Quite simply, students and youth need to be concerned about managing their own online brand - and they need to be actively involved in creating, maintaining, and monitoring it.

But what is your online brand?

Well, first let's define what a brand actually is. Wikipedia's definition is that a brand constitutes "a collection of experiences and associations connected with a service, a person or any other entity."

And by extension, your online brand is the collection of experiences and associations connected with you as a person, which manifest themselves into your online brand image - in other words, the image of you in the minds of others based on information and expectations of who you are.

If you still aren't sure, think of it as the image that you want to project to a potential employer. Think professional, knowledgeable, experienced, keen, enthusiastic, polite, etc.

So, why is this important?

Well, we live in an age of Google, Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

It's an age where we are encouraged to provide personal details and information online.

It's an age where all that information is stored online for an indefinite period.

And it's an age where this information can come back to haunt you while searching for a job or volunteer position.

This last point is key - it is now very easy for a potential employer to try and find out information about you without using your references. And this has major implications for those searching for a job.

As Robert Schlesinger wrote, students and youth must consider what personal information and content is online while looking for a job - after all, it's very easy to search someone's name in a search engine.

And this information can be used to come up with a projection of who you are as a person. It could be true or false, but regardless, such information that is freely available online allows hiring managers to make assumptions about you without giving you the chance to refute them.

Here's a personal story that underscores what I'm saying.

If you type my name, Andrew Hercules, into Google, the first results are videos and interviews with another Andrew Hercules who happens to be a member of a band and live in a nearby city. Now, the content featuring this person does not represent what I want to project to a potential employer.

One of my previous managers told me that when she searched my name, she was expecting a rock star to walk through the doors - sadly, she had to settle for me. She mentioned that she was expecting a particular type of person based on her assumption that I was a rock star and that I turned out to be exactly the opposite of what she wants.

Ever since then, I've taken a keen interest in managing my personal brand online. I want to make sure that any potential employer sees me in the best light possible.

But with how easy it is to find information combined with the possibility of someone having the same name, it's easier said that done.

So with that being said, I just want to get you thinking about what your online reputation is and how that can impact your job search, both positively and negatively.

And keep an eye out for my next posting where I'll offer my top 5 tips for helping you manage your personal brand online.

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