Have you ever Googled yourself to see how many times your name appears on the Web? To get a fairly accurate reading of how often your name appears, place it in quotation marks in Google, e.g., “Katharine Hansen.” If you have a very common name, add some other identifying information, such as the town you live in or your employer, e.g., “Katharine Hansen” “Kettle Falls, WA” “Quintessential Careers.”
What does this little exercise have to do with networking? Even if you’ve never Googled yourself, it’s likely that an employer or recruiter has. It’s part of a now virtually standard practice — especially at senior and executive levels — to find out how visible a prospective employee is. The number of results on Google is considered a reasonable gauge of a candidate’s visibility.
Networking has long been considered one of the most effective ways to job-hunt, in part because of the old adage that it’s not what you know but who you know. But increasingly, success can spring not just from who you know — but from who knows you.
This article explores a type of passive networking with some very active elements. While some may consider getting your name out there to be a form of personal branding or horn-tooting, networking can provide avenues for raising your visibility and building your aura as an attractive candidate for hire. Symbiotically, elevating the world’s awareness of you creates new opportunities for networking.
Keep in mind that employers and recruiters aren’t just looking for how many times your name pops up in a Google search. They’re also interested in how positive your online image is. Thus, you need to be very careful of how you project yourself online. The Internet is a highly public medium, and personal information floating out there in cyberspace about your political affiliation, religious preference, and even your family, could unfortunately work against you. A comment that you innocently post to an online discussion group could be viewed negatively by a prospective employer. The advice of an anonymous blog contributor log is worth heeding: “Never post anything that you wouldn’t be willing to read on the front page of the New York Times.”
A New York resume writer, for example, tells the story of submitting names of two executives to a recruiter who was unimpressed with both candidates — one because his name was nowhere to be found on the Web, and the other because his controversial political views on the Web turned the recruiter off. Another career expert tells of trying to look up an old colleague and finding only outdated information on him on the Web. Had he ensured that his online information was current and visible, the career guru would have told him about a great job opportunity
Before we get into ways you can pump up your online image, try this exercise: Take about a minute to write down what you are most known for. In what area(s) could you offer yourself as an expert? Ideally you are considered an expert in some area of your career or professional life, but hobbies and interests can be fair game, too.
And that brings us to the first way to get your name out there:
- Be known for your expertise. Offer yourself as an expert to the media. Contact local, regional — and if you’re really hot stuff — national newspaper, magazine, and online editors to let them know you’d be willing to be quoted on the topic(s) of your expertise. Your communication with editors could take the form of an e-mail, phone call, letter, or even a “media kit” with business card, resume, and list of story tips for which you’re qualified to serve as a source. I recently had a client, for example, who unfortunately did not receive tenure from the university at which he was a professor. He happens to be an expert on terrorism, however, and is often called upon by the media for quotes and insights. His visibility through this media exposure should help raise his currency as he seeks a new job.
- Be visible in professional, volunteer, and civic associations (such as the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary). Membership in these organizations is a great way to network, but to really get your name out there, run for office and volunteer to serve on committees.
- Speak in public. Organizations are always looking for speakers. For most smaller, local organizations, speakers are not paid, but they gain excellent exposure by talking about subjects of interests to the group membership. The same topic(s) in which you offer your expertise to the media can make fascinating fodder for presentations that will familiarize audiences with your talents and expertise. Your talk will likely be publicized, further enabling you to get your name out there. Oh, and even if it’s just rubber chicken, you’ll usually get a meal out of your speaking engagements. If you’re not comfortable as a public speaker, consider boosting your confidence by joining Toastmasters, which can be a great networking venue in itself.
- Offer your services to local colleges and universities. Make yourself available as a guest speaker for collegiate groups and clubs. Consider applying as an adjunct instructor. Many schools welcome professionals — even those without terminal degrees — to bring their real-world business experience to the classroom.
- Write articles. Just as groups seek speakers, both print and online publications often seek writers and columnists. The pay may be minimal or nonexistent, but having your name in print and your expertise disseminated can be priceless. Quintessential Careers’ own Dr. Randall Hansen, for example, widened his horizons and became better known in his community when he offered his Career Doctor column to the local newspaper. Don’t forget about professional, trade, and industry publications in your field. Newsletters and magazines published by professional organizations may be clamoring for expertise like yours.
- Contribute to online discussion groups and LinkedIn answers — but watch what you say. Speaking your mind in online groups, especially those connected with your professional field, certainly adds to your online presence, but don’t forget the very public nature of the Internet and the possibility that a prospective employer could read what you have to say.
- Serve on advisory boards and boards of directors. At some point in your career, you may be asked to participate on a corporate or nonprofit board, either in a decision-making or advisory capacity. If you’re looking for a terrific networking opportunity — as well as a way to get your name out there — jump at the invitation to join a board. Membership on some boards is by application rather than invitation; check into boards associated with your local government, for example. Our county government, for example, has an advisory committee for its rail-trail, which Dr. Hansen served on. Although board membership is a serious responsibility and time commitment (boards generally meet anywhere from quarterly to monthly), it can be a rewarding networking opportunity because of the accompanying clout and prestige. Board membership frequently affords you the chance to rub elbows with some of the most powerful members of the community or corporate world — people you might not normally get to meet. To maximize the opportunity, don’t just sit there at meetings and say “yea” or “nay;” get actively involved. Volunteer for committees. The more you do for the board, the more important people you’ll be able to network with, and the better known you’ll become.
- Consider a personal Website with a portfolio. The foregoing ways to get your name out there are generally indirect paths to ensuring that your name will pop up in a Google search. A personal Website with portfolio is a more direct approach. Having a portfolio presence on the Web shows employers that you are technically savvy, open to new trends, and poised on the cutting edge.
Consider the message you’d like to convey with your site and portfolio. Try this exercise: Take a few minutes to identify what your “brand” is. Think of three major trends that have spanned your career — ongoing patterns — for example, you’ve always been a people person. Try to convey these consistent branding messages throughout your portfolio. Read more about branding.
A portfolio published on the Web enables you to include links to all kinds of items that tell more about you, your capabilities, and provide evidence of your accomplishments (writing samples, graphic-design samples, ad campaigns, photographs, PowerPoint presentations, reports, graphs, charts, lists of accomplishments and awards, executive summaries, case studies, testimonials, project deliverables, and even multimedia items, such as video and sound clips) that employers can access 24/7.
Be sure your Website and portfolio look professional and avoid un-businesslike content. There’s a fine line between opening enough of a window into your personality to intrigue a prospective employer — and turning a visitor off with inappropriate family photos or off-color humor. Still, you’ll often find some elements in a Web portfolio that you wouldn’t find in a typical resume — accessible language and photos of the candidate, for example, which facilitate a sort of virtual networking through which employers can get to know prospective employees better. The portfolio provides a great opportunity for the candidate and employer to build rapport before an interview even takes place.
Final Thoughts on Career Networking and Raising Your Visibility
Most career experts agree that a portfolio alone or the other get-your-name-out-there activities alone may not do a lot to boost your “Googlability,” but an online portfolio plus efforts to raise your visibility can be a potent combination.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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