I’ve been heavily involved in many online communities for a long time now, probably the better part of a decade. Still many of the nuances of having an online presence escaped me until a few years ago when social networking started exploding and people started putting all sorts of embarrassing things up for the world to see. Thankfully I have a standing agreement with all my friends that nothing embarrassing or incriminating gets put up anywhere mostly because if they do decide to do it I have a whole arsenal of juicy material to use, so it’s a kind of mutually assured destruction of the social kind that keeps us all at bay. After setting up a website however I became increasingly interested in the presence I could create online rather than the one that was carved out for me by the giants of the social networking world.
For most people the only presence they will have online will be their Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/MySpace pages as anything else would require a bit of effort from them and unless you’re in the business of doing things online there’s really no need. As long as their public facing pages are relatively tame they won’t face any repercussions from potential employers and in fact it might help them, serving to verify that you are who you say you are. Even the myth that you can’t get security cleared positions if you have a social networking page are false too, as I know many people with high level clearance who are my friends on Facebook.
Still for the IT industry having your own image on the web can be quite handy. Apart from the obvious utility of having your own space on the web with which to do things (like being able to remote into your machines at home from work, great for testing things) being able to control what people will see when they look for you online is quite invaluable. Whilst this blog isn’t yet at the top of Google searches for my name, that honour still belongs to LinkedIn for some reason, it’s right at the top. It might not sound like much but when a potential recruiter/employer is looking for information on me they never go past the first few sites and when they come to mine things start to get interesting.
You see I run Google Analytics on this blog. At the most basic level it’s just a visitor tracking system that Google provides for free in exchange for knowing all sorts of wonderful data about my site, the people that come to it and where they come from. Just to give you a taste of the kind of info that I get from running this here’s a screen shot of the data for the past month for this site:
Probably the most interesting part is the traffic sources overview down in the bottom left hand corner. Clicking on that brings up a report of where everyone is coming from, whether it be from Google or Twitter or if they had a bookmark/typed the address directly into the browser. The most powerful part of that, for me at least, is the search term category which tells me what people searched for to get to this blog. For the most part there are certain posts that will get picked up a lot (you can see in the Content Overview what they are) but every so often I’ll get people searching my (or friends) names popping up, and that’s when the digging begins.
Now I’m not an Internet celebrity by any stretch of the imagination so my name doesn’t get Google all that often. Usually it happens when one of my friends is trying to show my site to someone else (although most of them remember the address now) or, more importantly, it’s a potential employer or recruiter checking up on me. Since I’m usually in shotgun application mode for most jobs it pays to see which companies are looking into me and how deep they go in their research, and the results are usually pretty telling.
The last one I can remember came to the site and checked out the home page and the about page, but didn’t check the lab or any of my post archives. I think they spent a total of about 5 minutes on the site which tells me they were doing a quick check to make sure I was who I said I was and to see if there was anything obviously wrong with me. They didn’t notice the work and career tags in the tag cloud to the right hand side which could’ve soured their opinion of me somewhat but most of my work related posts seem to go unnoticed, so I think I’m safe there 😉
What’s this all mean in the end then? Not a whole lot really, the Google that many recruiters do is just a modern form of the informal interview that a lot of places used to (and some still) do. The unfortunate part was that you, the person being looked into, stopped getting something back from them, I.E. knowing they were interested enough to look into you in the first place. Running your own personal website, if you’re into that kind of thing, is a great way to mold your own online presence whilst keeping tabs on those who would look you up. I guess I’m just a bit of an information vortex, I can never get enough of the stuff 😉