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Creating Your Personal Brand Online

First impressions matter.

Before you ever sit down for the first interview, chances are that your potential employer already has an idea of what you’re about. With 80 percent of companies Google-searching you before extending an interview invite, your digital persona influences hiring decisions as much as resumes, suit choices or handshakes.

Worried about what searching your name online might reveal? Make your online brand bullet-proof with these six tips.

Know thyself—preferably before anyone else does—and clean house

The first step to developing your digital persona is acknowledging your existing identity. What shows up in a Google search of your name? Your top work achievements? A risqué opinion paper? Pictures from a Key West nightclub? That’s your starting point. If something unflattering appears, find out how to remove it. Social media networks and profiles usually rank highest in search results. Removing this content is often easier because you control your profile.

Because the Internet is forever, the best solution is prevention. Do everything you can to put your best professional foot forward—even with your screen names and email address—and avoid anything that might jeopardize your professional life. In other words, Cutiepie23@gmail.com should not expect a call.

Not convinced? Consider the cautionary tale of Justine Sacco, the public relations professional who thoughtlessly tweeted a racist joke before a business trip to Africa. If you don’t know who she is, Google her: Even though she deleted it, that tweet will never disappear.

Image is everything

Use a professional headshot: No selfies! If you can’t afford a professional portrait, have a friend take a photograph, and choose the best of the lot. Aim for a neutral background, professional attire and understated hair and makeup. Be the same person in your picture that arrives at the job interview.

Go beyond appearance, though. Be mindful of how your online decision-making might strike hiring managers. That blog you started with such enthusiasm, updated twice and abandoned two years ago? Consider taking it down. You don’t want to look like someone who doesn’t follow through or finish things.

Be private—but not too private: Of course you don’t want all of your personal life made public. Nor do potential employers want to know your feelings on mocha lattes or your fantasy baseball team. Still, online know-how is important career-wise, so be open enough to demonstrate that you do understand social media. Being absolutely untraceable can be as red a flag as keg stand pictures for employers trying to gauge a job candidate’s Internet character.

Be thorough

Keep your LinkedIn profile 100 percent complete. 36 percent of job seekers aren’t active on LinkedIn but 94 percent of job recruiters are. Why the discrepancy? Is LinkedIn too daunting? Whatever the case, many candidates have incomplete or underdeveloped LinkedIn pages. Unfinished profiles look sloppy and unmotivated.

Check yourself. No errors. None. If you struggle with proofreading, have a friend look over your profile (especially on LinkedIn) to check spelling and grammar. Errors tell potential employers that you aren’t detail-oriented, lack thoroughness or are too lazy to spell-check.

Network, network, network

Spend some time on LinkedIn looking for successful people in your field with whom you might have a connection. Avoid LinkedIn’s default “auto-filled” invitation in favor of a personally sent request to connect.

Join the right communities: Twitter and LinkedIn are great for finding industry-specific groups. Join a LinkedIn group that caters to your profession or industry, and look for opportunities to contribute thoughtful information and opinions to the conversation. Besides connecting, you’re accruing industry insight—veritable gunpowder for interviews and networking. If you have expertise in a specific subject, take to Twitter and dispense your knowledge online to build your professional identity.

Ask former bosses and colleagues for recommendations. Testimonials about you say a lot, especially if they’re from former bosses. LinkedIn’s one-click “endorsements” don’t really mean much—it’s the written recommendations that count.

Become an expert

Find a news site, blog or online publisher and offer an expert quote or a guest blog. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is a tremendous resource for industry experts looking to elevate their media profiles. Better yet, getting cited online improves your chances of having employers see what makes you worth talking to—and potentially hiring.

Measure your digital impact

Use Klout as your dashboard to see what works and what needs improvement. The site syncs with your social media here.

Building your online brand takes dedication and time—on a continuous basis. Take a full day to start this process and bring harsh honesty to the job. When it’s all over, the upkeep will be a shoe-tying process, and the engagement will be addictive.