If someone searches for you on the Web and comes up empty-handed, do you exist?
Considering that a growing number of recruiters and hiring managers are using search engines when gathering impressions of potential employees, the question isn't as frivolous as it may seem.
In a 2006 survey by executive search firm ExecuNet in the U.S. state of Connecticut, 77 of 100 recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In a CareerBuilder.com survey of 1,150 hiring managers last year, one in four said they use Internet search engines to research potential employees. One in 10 said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. In fact, according to Search Engine Watch, there are 25 million to 50 million proper-name searches performed each day.
In today's job market, turning up missing on the Web may not be a fatal flaw, and it's probably better than having a search result in a photo of you in a hula skirt. But over time, the lack of a Web presence -- particularly for IT professionals -- may well turn from a neutral to a negative, says Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems.
"Particularly because we're a core technology provider, if someone came looking for a senior-level job and had left no mark on the Internet, I'd see that as a big negative," he says.
And it's not just about technology, Bray says. "Most companies would rather have somebody who has demonstrated the propensity to contribute, and one [sign] of that is going out and getting involved, joining in the discussion."
However, younger job seekers are more likely to participate in Web activities than older workers, says Jennifer Stitt, a technical recruiter at Cigital, a software security and quality consultancy in Virginia, U.S. "We have to be very careful not to fall prey to the belief that because a 45-year-old doesn't have as much out there to be found when Googling, they aren't a good candidate," she says.
Still, says Nolan Bayliss, founder of Naymz, an online identity services provider in Chicago, "someone who has no information online might be perceived as not being as tech-savvy as someone else."
Five tips to make yourself more findable on the Web
1. Know where people look
If you haven't done so already, check what people will discover about you through popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo, as well as the lesser-used MSN Search or Ask.com, Bayliss says. Review at least the first three to five pages of results.
Some recruiters use blog-searching tools such as Technorati, Daypop or Blogdigger. They may also search specific sites, such as MySpace, YouTube or Flickr, or even lesser-known sites they themselves frequent, such as LibraryThing.com, says Rick Umali, a technical consultant at Endeca Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Check to see what they'll discover.