Here’s an important lesson as you work all the angles to develop your career: A personal brand is important. But a reputation is arguably more so. It’s also infinitely more fragile.
That’s especially true in today’s digital environment when everything’s transparent, and jobs can be scuttled and career paths diverted by negative online content – however it got into the public domain.
“An online reputation can be a challenge to repair,” cautions Matt Earle, who is a leading expert on online reputation management and the founder and president of Reputation.ca, Canada’s leading online reputation management firm. “But it’s an important investment because of how significant one’s online presence has become in today’s digital era.”
Developing your personal brand is actually a career-long endeavor. It’s partially self-defined – the distinctiveness of your attire and how you package yourself, for example. It also is comprised of your expertise and credentials, your story and your value proposition.
If your personal brand is what you say about yourself, your reputation is what others say about you. That makes it mandatory to exercise extra caution as you manage your personal brand in the digital space — because recruiters and current and prospective employers are all paying attention.
A survey last year by Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 80 percent of recruiters search the Internet or social media to vet job candidates, and almost all said they do this before the initial contact. Recruiters said they look for social media content that implies lack of professionalism, although public records showing felonies or evidence that contradicts information on a resume are also problematic.
There’s a saying, Reputation.ca’s Matt Earle notes, that’s just as true in the digital space as it is in the real world: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. “Even if you aren’t looking for a new job, you want to protect the one you have,” he says. “You want to monitor your online identity on a regular basis to see how and where you’re showing up and repair damage to your reputation before it causes real harm.”
Earle says there are several basic steps that people can take to ensure their reputations stay as burnished as their brands:
- Don’t self-sabotage by complaining about your job or co-workers or posting photos, as one young woman did, showing how she stayed “hydrated” at a beach kegger on a “sick day.” Think before you post and delete anything that’s even remotely problematic. If you have friends who have tagged you with questionable content, have them remove their posts, too.
- If your identity is the same as someone with negative listings in search engine results, think about how you can separate yours out. An easy fix is to adjust your identity for online purposes – using your middle initial or name or maiden and married names combined. (Just remember to be consistent for professional use to ensure credibility.)
- Consider establishing a positive profile website on your domain, or at the very least, make sure you own and control the domain that is associated with your full professional name.
You’re going to be working on advancing your career for many years to come. So make sure that even as you build your brand as a smart and talented asset to any employer, your reputation continues to measure up.