Explore Your Options copyThe Week of April 4th Is Explore Your Career Options Week

If you want to keep your career options open, be aware that a strong personal brand on social media can help or hurt.

According to a recent CareerBuilder.com poll, 52 percent of employers use social networking sites to research candidates, and 35 percent of those same employers reported that they were less likely to interview job candidates who didn’t have an online presence.

In addition, 51 percent use search engines to dig up details on a job candidate. So that picture of you chugging back a beer on your Facebook page may not be such a good personal brand move for your future career prospects.

Take advantage of all your career options by making sure your social media is up to par with these 5 easy, but often overlooked, tips.

#1. Show some teeth, and instantly become smarter and more likeable.  

In one study a profile picture on social media with a smile with teeth visible increased the perception of someone’s competence, likability and influence. A closed-mouth smile, however, had about half the impact on likability, and showing too much teeth (a laughing smile) increased likeability but reduced perceived competence and influence.

#2. Avoid the 5 deadly online career killers.

51 percent of employers chose not to hire a candidate based on their social media content. As obvious as these faux pas sound, the most common reasons for knocking a potential employee out of the running include:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs
  • Information about candidate drinking or using drugs
  • Candidate bad-mouthing previous company or fellow employee
  • Poor communication skills
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.

Some of the most outrageous examples taken from real life include: someone posting a photo of a warrant for their arrest, including links to an escort service, posting dental exam results, bragging about driving drunk (and not getting caught), posting Sasquatch pictures the person had taken, and featuring a pig as a best friend.

#3. Get on the first page of Google.

Enter your name into Google, and see if you come up on the first page. If not, you are probably one of the 50 percent of people on the site who don’t have a complete LinkedIn profile. To get to the first page of Google with your name, bring your LinkedIn to “all star” status by making sure you have:

  • A profile photo
  • Your current position
  • 2 past positions
  • A summary
  • Your industry and zip code
  • Your education
  • At least 50 connections

#4. Claim your name.

In the gold-rush days, would-be wealthy miners placed stakes in the ground to mark off their territory. In the digital era, everyone needs to stake their claim —to their name — and own as much of their digital brand territory as possible.

In practical terms, this means registering your name as a URL to protect your self (and your reputation) from others claiming your username and potentially damaging your image and reputation.

With 850 million active websites on the Internet, many names are already spoken for. If your exact name is taken, try getting a URL with:

  • Your first initial and last name
  • Your first name, middle initial and last name
  • Your first, middle and last name
  • A hyphen between your first and last name

#5. Get off the first page of Google.

What pops up when your name gets put into a search engine? To stay on top of your online personal brand, set a Google Alert on yourself and receive an email when you’re mentioned on the web.

This way you can look and see who is talking about you — and what they’re saying. If you don’t like what you see, take steps to make changes before they do damage. This can include:

  • Requesting that old (or undesirable) photos be replaced with new ones you provide.
  • Getting outdated, unfair and inaccurate content off the first page of your search results by writing desirable new content (blog posts, articles, etc.) aimed at specific keywords and posting status updates that drive older, less desirable content (which features those same keywords) farther down the list.

So the next time you get an itch to post that selfie of you doing something questionable at the company holiday party, think again. Instead post a piece on the importance of gratitude for the season –  it might just get you hired for the job you have always dreamed of.

Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, is due out from Entrepreneur Press in May of 2016.