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So you’ve sent off the resumes and the calls aren’t coming. You know you’re qualified for at least some of the positions, but you’re starting to wonder if something’s wrong. As both a hiring manager and a long-time SEO practitioner, I’m here to let you in on some secrets that just might make the difference.

What is SEO and why is it important for job seekers?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the art and science of elevating the most relevant results to the top of search engine results for a particular query. For brands and businesses, this means getting in front of potential customers. But for the job seeker, it means accentuating your relevant skills and positive qualities.  Wherever possible, it also means eliminating the irrelevant, the negative, and even the downright embarrassing. SEO can also be helpful in being found by recruiters in the first place, but in this article we’ll be talking about what happens after your resume is already in a manager’s hands.

Your Online Footprint

If you’ve ever done anything online – joined a social network, created a profile, uploaded a resume – you’ve left an online footprint. If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably Googled your own name at some point. What did you see?  In the 21st Century, every responsible hiring manager takes at least the minimum step of Googling your name before ever considering interviewing you. But the savvy manager (especially in technical fields) knows to go several steps farther, especially if your name is a common one and the search results are full of similarly named people.

How Managers Search

Here are some of the queries I search in Google when I first have a resume in front of me. Let’s say it’s John Q. Smith’s.

“John Smith” (quotation marks provide exact phrase matching in Google)
“John Q. Smith”
“John Q. Smith” Chicago (his current city)
“John Q. Smith” WidgetCo (his last employer)
“John Q. Smith” “Florida State” (his alma mater)
“John Q. Smith” Facebook
“John Q. Smith” LinkedIn
“John Q. Smith” Twitter
etc. etc.

Getting the idea? Your resume provides endless search fodder. By the time I’ve searched you thoroughly (about 1-10 minutes total, depending on the uniqueness of the name), I’ll usually know more about you than a TSA body scanner. And it might seem just as intrusive.  But this is the reality of our world: all this information is public. And remember, I have a responsibility to hire people who are qualified, passionate about their field, and telling the truth on their resumes.

Passion and Honesty

I can tell how passionate you are by whether you blog about your field online, whether you give advice about it in forums, whether you tweet interesting articles about it.  And often I can tell whether you were honest in your resume. If LinkedIn or another online profile shows vastly different dates or different jobs, I may well become suspicious.  And if an “Objective” statement appears online, I’ll compare it to the one in your resume. Did you say online that you were an expert electrician, but on paper you’re all about massage therapy? You can expect I’ll be a bit skeptical.

In the end, we want one thing: when a hiring manager looks you up online, they see the image of a qualified, passionate professional who is a great fit for the job. But before you take on the task of trying to affect those all-important search results, it’s important to define the search terms you’re targeting.

Pick Your Battles
The first step in your campaign is to look at your resume with fresh eyes as if you knew nothing about yourself, and wanted to find out everything. Make a list of every variation of your name combined with every past employer, school, and any other unique words in your resume, along with every major social network.  As we saw in earlier, these are the likeliest terms a hiring manager will search for. Taken together, these search queries constitute the targets of your SEO campaign, or as we call them in the trade, your “keywords.”

Ready, Aim, Search
Put each of these keywords into Google and search. Do this while signed out of your Google account, as this can skew results. Also sign out of all social media and social networking sites, so that you can see the results as a stranger would.  Note what comes up, and visit each relevant result. Is the information you find consistent with your resume? Does it portray what you want a hiring manager to see? Do you appear professional? Is there anything in the results that you wouldn’t bring up in an interview? Now repeat this process within Google’s Image Search. Is there anything you wouldn’t want seen? Are you seeing professional portraits or snapshots from spring break?

This post is continued in Part 2 where we’ll cover shaping your search results and managing  your social presence.

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