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Case Study: How Name Confusion Can Make Your Job Search More Difficult

By Susan P. Joyce

How Name Confusion Can Make Your Job Search More Difficult"What you don’t know can hurt you!" It’s an old saying, but still very true today.

You may lead a blameless life, but a bank robber, sex offender, drunk driver, or someone else with a bad reputation and with your name could be sabotaging your job search.

No, I’m not referring to what we traditionally think of as "identity theft" -- this person didn't steal your Social Security Number and run up bills in your name. No!

I’m referring to "mistaken online identity."

Mistaken online identity happens often, can be badly damaging your online reputation, and -- worst! -- you won't be aware of it unless you regularly practice "Defensive Googling."

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Defensive Googling - Minimize Mistaken Online Identity

It probably seems unlikely to happen to you, and, hopefully, it never will happen to you. 

Unless your name is very unique, it could happen to you. 

Best to understand how it works and what you can do about it.

  The Sad Story of Two Women Named Mary  

A professional resume writer shared the true story of what happened to one of her clients.

  Mary #1:  

She is an accomplished professional woman, a senior manager working in a well-regarded company.  She was looking for a job, and she hired the resume writer to help her with her resume. Her resume was impressive, accurately reflecting the person, experience, accomplishments, skills, and knowledge.

  Mary #2:  

She is a disbarred attorney living in the same state as Mary # 1, and also is named in a very visible Supreme Court obscenity case.  She uses the same name Mary # 1 used in her resume, LinkedIn Profile, and other job search documents because it is her name, too. Nothing illegal. Just very damaging to Mary #1.

The story:

Being experienced as a hiring manager, Mary #1 was sending her resume in a very rational, targeted way to people she connected with through networking.

She sent out her resume, carefully, for four months, with absolutely no result at all. Not even a thanks-but-no-thanks letter or message from these people she had met through her networking and thought she had developed some rapport with.

Mary # 1 couldn't figure out what was wrong. Bad breath? Her age? Her appearance? Her LinkedIn Profile? WHAT was going on?

Finally, after four months of nothing, Mary #1 Googled her name. YIKES! Then, she found Mary #2.

The people who received Mary #1's resume thought she might be Mary #2, and they were not interested in hiring Mary #2 for the job Mary #1 was seeking.

 How Did Mary #1 Recover?  

Being a smart woman, determined not to make the same mistake twice, Mary # 1 Googled several versions of her real name (with her middle initial, with her whole middle name, extending her first name from Mary to Maryanne, which is her real first name). She discovered that no one had (yet) sullied the version of her name which uses her middle initial, Mary W.

So, Mary # 1 added her middle initial to her name in:

  • her resume,
  • her LinkedIn Profile,
  • her cover letters
  • her email address,
  • her email signature
  • her business / networking cards, and
  • everything else related to her professional identity in the world.

Then, she set up a Google Alert on her name, both the old and the new versions, so she can keep track of Mary #2 as well as monitor the current name (maybe there’s another Mary W #2 out there somewhere).

 Mary #1 Recovers!  

Within 2 weeks of changing the name she used for her job search, Mary W. was invited in for an interview after sending a resume (with the new version of her name) to an employer. More success followed, and she reportedly is happily working in a new job.

So, What Should You Do?

RIGHT NOW – Google yourself!

Type your name into Google’s search bar and enclose it in quotation marks, like this -

"First name Last name" (or whatever name you use in your job search documents)

The quotation marks around your name tell Google that you want it to find the pages where those 2 words are side-by-side, in a phrase.

Yes, I know some people call it "vanity Googling" or "ego surfing" – ignore them!

"Defensive Googling" is a much more accurate name, and it’s the smart thing to do all the time, but particularly during a job search.

You could be a victim of Mistaken Online Identity, but you won’t know unless you look.

But, you say, I haven’t done anything stupid on Facebook!  Excellent!   However, someone else with the same name may not have been as smart or as careful.  And their misdeeds could be impacting your job search.

Employers Google/Bing job seekers more than 80% of the time, according to recent research. Someone out there who looks like you may be hurting your chances, even if it is not really you.

Employers these days don’t have the time - or the need - to determine if the bad stuff they have found is about the applicant they are considering.

They just move on to the next applicant, and discard your application.

Bottom Line

We can no longer successfully operate in the world with our cyber-head stuck in the sand (to mangle an old cliche a bit). We must pay attention to our online reputations, or risk some very negative results to our reputations and, consequently, to our job searches.

More about Online Reputation Management:


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.


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