Quick question: What comes up when someone searches for your name in Google? Go ahead, try it. (For an accurate look, open up a different browser from the one you normally use, so you're not "contaminating" your results with personalized Google results.)
What do you see? Are these results something you'd be comfortable with a potential employer seeing when they search for you? Because - no doubt - they will.
What Should a Potential Employer See?
What's the best first impression an employer can have of you online? Personally, I think it's one of these:
An up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Let's face it, LinkedIn is the crème de la crème of professional social networks. It's given a lot of emphasis by search engines, and, ideally, your LinkedIn profile should be one of the first things that pops up for your name. Below, I'll talk more about how to make this happen.
Links to your professional written work. If you have a professional blog, great. If you've contributed to online magazines (such as a school law journal or The Student Appeal), great. Having a "paper trail" of work is excellent, because it gives people a better sense of your writing abilities, and your areas of interest. If, however, what's showing up is more - shall we say, "recreational" - it might be time to make some changes. More below.
What's also likely to show up is images of you, and links to your other social network profiles (or to the profiles of other people with the same name). Frankly, there's not a whole lot you can do about this, other than trying to keep your Twitter account, or Tumblr account, Pinterest account, or whatever, work-safe. If you regularly Tweet about how much you're partying, you probably want to remove your name from that account ASAP! (And hope Google eventually deletes it.)
How to Clean Up Your Online Profile
As with many things, the best defense is a good offense. If you're not happy with what's showing up in your search, start adding higher quality content as soon as you can, and see if you can get rid of the stuff you don't like.
Set up, or optimize, your personal LinkedIn profile. This has to be step one. If you're not on LinkedIn, start an account today. If you've already got an account, optimize it (for a reader, and for search engines). This article has some great tips, including customizing your public profile URL to be your name. Easy, and effective! For the average person, LinkedIn is going to be the most highly-ranked search result for your name. Make sure it's there, and make it count.
Lock down your Facebook profile. Trust me on this one - there's no reason for the public to see your Facebook profile. Even if you're squeaky clean, who knows what your crazy Uncle Joe is going to post on your wall. If you're using Timeline, here's how to see what the public sees (and clean it up). And here's a more lawyer-focused version.
Try to remove any questionable content. A few years ago, I Googled myself and found that the first link was to a page I wouldn't have opted to have potential employers see immediately. (It wasn't awful, but it would have raised some eyebrows.) Turns out, my personal email address was on the page, and that email happens to have my name in it, so it was shooting right to the top of the search results. Luckily I controlled the page, so I removed my email address, and it eventually disappeared. If you see anything you don't like, and you can either remove it yourself or ask that it be edited or taken down, do so. It won't disappear instantly from the search results, but it will probably go away eventually, particularly if you make an effort to replace it with higher quality content.
Start writing online, under your name. One of the best ways to massage your search results is to contribute to authoritative online sources. I've already mentioned The Student Appeal, which is always looking for student work, but there are tons of other options. Ms. JD lets anyone post content (be sure to sign up with your actual name as the username for best results), and your school probably has online journals and magazines that would welcome content. These don't have to be super long or involved - the point is just to get your name out there in a way you control.
Set up some innocuous social media accounts. The leading contender here is Google+. Yes, I know almost no one actually uses Google+, but so what? Google likes it, so create a page for yourself. It'll probably rank highly, and you have total control over what you put on it. Here are some tips for getting started. As with LinkedIn, include a professional-looking photo. Odds are it will eventually show up in the images that appear in your search results, so aim to look your best.
None of these strategies will work overnight, so start now! Then, when you start job hunting, the online image you're presenting will be the best it can be - impressing employers and increasing your chances of landing the job you want.
Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process.
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