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Managing Your Personal Brand Online

manage personal brand - google resultsWhat will potential employers find when they Google your name — and what can you do if you don’t like what they’ll see? How can your own website help you manage your personal brand online? Reader T wonders…

I have a question about personal websites for lawyers and professional women.

Before law school, I had a reasonably lengthy career in an unrelated (and somewhat internet-based) industry. This means that when you Google me, you get a million hits unrelated to law, and can find lots of things I’ve written about pop culture, television, and movies. I’m not embarrassed by that work at all, but I know it can read as non-professional. So when I went to law school, I created a personal website that included both material from my previous career and information about my work as a law student. But now I’m graduating and going to clerk, and I’m worried about projecting professionalism.

Should I take down my personal website altogether? (Does a lawyer really need one?) Continue to include both my legal resume and my pre-legal work product? Scrub the non-legal stuff? Scrub the legal stuff and have it only relate to my previous work? Any advice is appreciated!

This is a really interesting question, and one that I see being more about controlling your past on the Internet and less about the propriety of personal websites (which we’ll get to in a second). Who among us, after all, hasn’t written pages upon pages upon pages of commentary on a show you really liked back when, say, you were a senior in high school and didn’t have anything else to focus on? Just me and VR.5? OK then. (Amazingly it all seems to be gone now, a mere 20 years later — I swear just 5 years ago there were still hits.) But my point is: stuff is out there. And it’s incredibly hard to take down — so hard that I generally don’t recommend trying unless you know the site owner(s) personally.

So for my $.02, Reader T, I absolutely recommend keeping a personal website — get control of your search results, present the information you want to be seen and in the light you see it.  I actually did Google Reader T, just to see what came up. Pro: Her own page came up first. Con: Her own page wasn’t very professional — basically just a picture and a paragraph that was the equivalent of waving “Hi, you may know me from X, Y, and Z, but now I’m a lawyer.” In this case, it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. Were I Reader T, I would want to use the page to show a) my primary focus is now legal issues, and b) to try to control and explain some of the older stuff out there on the web. To that end I would have two, maybe three pages on a personal website:

1) The main page that discusses who you are, what your legal interests are, and perhaps a blogroll of some of your favorite content in the legal space — what blogs or newsletters do you read? If you can swing it (commitment is key here), start a blog with brief thoughts about some of the articles you’re reading. “I recently thought Y article was interesting; it made me think about X cause; I learned Z.” That kind of thing. This shows your future employers that this is your main interest now and you are very vested in it — it also is going to slowly start to affect your search results so that when people search on those topics, you come up as a thinker in the space. Win win. Update: As readers note, this may not be the best option for Reader T, who is clerking — know what the ethics rules about this are in your jurisdiction, lawyers!

2) On a separate page (not the main one) I would say something like, “Before I was a lawyer, I did ___.  This is some of my work in the space.” Then link to some of your favorite articles, perhaps with a brief (serious) few sentences about what you liked about each one — what you liked about the show, why that particular article was fun to write, what kind of work went into writing that article. This will help put a seemingly wacky topic into perspective for future employers. On the flip side, maybe — like me and VR.5 — you’re a bit embarrassed about this trove of information. That’s ok too — a page like this will give employers more information and more context than a list of Google search results.

3) On a third page I’d have a basic “About Me” section if you want. A picture, a contact form, maybe some basic information on your city, school, or employer — all with the thought, “If future employers and colleagues Google me, they will find this first.”

Now: does someone with a squeaky clean Internet history need a personal website? To read some career sites, the answer is YES, yes you do (or: a personal newsletter!). But I’m curious to hear what readers say here — I think a personal website can be a lot of work to maintain, and an outdated one is worse than none at all.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on controlling your Internet history — and, do you think maintaining a personal website is worth the effort to manage your image online?  

Pictured: Google!, originally uploaded to Flickr by 7OA.)

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Comments

  1. This is an interesteing question. I personaly have no personal brand on-line b/c the manageing partner does NOT beleive in haveing an active website any more. We used to have one when the Internet was first invented by Al Gore (when I was in 5th grade), but once the firm dropped their AOL account, there was NO further need for a website, the manageing partner said. He wanted me to start one up, but did NOT want it to be to helpful for the cleint’s or else they would NOT need our services — I agree. The manageing partner said that if you give a cleint to much information, they will realise that we are not that essential and will look elsewhere when the bill’s get to high. I agree.

    I now have to figure out if I should stay or go out on my own. Myrna says I would need a strong office manager to run the place–more useful then Frank, who spends to much time stareing at women’s boobie’s. I think someone like Joan from Mad Men would be perfect, but imagine what would ever happen if Frank should come to visit and see her? OMG, TRIPEL FOOEY on Frank!

    The manageing partner’s brother says he want’s to make me an offer I can’t refuse on the coop. I told him I was NOT selling and in all liklihood would stay put. He again offered up the possibility of liveing together in a combined place–why would I live with a guy like him? Just to have 5 bedroom’s and 2 kitchens and 4 bath’s? All I need is what I have. Beside’s, his apartement looks to the side of the buildeing, and there is another building. He does NOT have the view I have of 2nd Avenue. YAY! I do NOT want to give that up.

    Myrna is bringing another freind over after work to meet me. This has got to be the 10th guy from her bank. I am almost positive he will not fit the bill. Dad warned me of investement banker’s onley wanting to park their winkie’s but never to establiesh a REAL realationship. I have had it with parked winkie’s. FOOEY! But I will give this schmoe a chance b/c Grandma Trudy told me to. YAY!!!!

  2. I think it turns out what your legal /professional job is. My MidLaw firm would not be thrilled about me maintaining a personal website, and I suspect some in-house jobs might feel similarly. If I were a solo or a small firm with a niche practice, I would absolutely have a personal website in addition to a business website.

  3. Anonymous :

    I sound like such a curmudgeon, but Reader T needs to make sure that anything she posts on her personal webpage complies with her jurisdiction’s ethical rules/rules on attorney advertising. As she starts her clerkship, she also needs to be particularly careful about not posting anything that touches on her work (including her thoughts on cases in the news that’s she’s not involved in). To be honest, maintaining a law-related personal blog or site is probably more likely to backfire than help in the legal industry. It does help push down undesirable results, but it doesn’t sound like Reader T is particularly concerned about hiding her past — she just wants to highlight her new career. I suggest focusing on creating a good LinkedIn profile and relying on that company’s dominance of Google analytics to put the spot light on her current role.

    • Anon atty :

      I completely agree with Anonymous. I’d rely on a good LinkedIn profile and leave the rest in the past.

      Side note – I’m an in house attorney for a large corporation. Our GC put me in charge of the “initial screening” when we hired another attorney in 2012. First thing I did with all the candidates I would even consider based on resume was google their names.

  4. Are people actually Google searching candidates before choosing to interview them? That seems completely ridiculous to me. And honestly, if you used to be a fanatic about a show or sport, and wrote stuff on the internet (as long as it wasn’t anything hateful, racist, harmful to anyone, etc.) will employers actually care? People have hobbies outside of work and shouldn’t be embarrassed by them; or previous careers for that matter. I think employers risk losing out on good candidates if they take what they find on the internet too seriously, as long as it’s harmless (murder charges are something completely different, but that’s what background checks are for). As an example, for the longest time when you Google searched me a stripper’s website appeared (I happen to have a very popular first name and surname so there any many people with the same name as me out there); I had no control over that. I think now that top hit is for a photographer; still not me though. I would hate to think that employers are judging me for the fact that I don’t have a personal website or that some other people’s come up first/instead of anything related to me.

    • Anonymous :

      Yes, employers absolutely Google candidates. The law firm I worked for straight out of school did it . . . in 2008. I know plenty of hiring folks who do general internet searches on candidates. I think it’s reasonable to judge a candidate if, when you Google them, all you find are photographs of them completely hammered. Whether you personally buy into it or not, some employers will find that type of behavior unbecoming of a candidate. Of course, a candidate can do whatever they want on their personal time, but allowing it to be blasted all over the internet IMO shows poor judgment. Especially when there are 100 different ways to prevent it from happening, like NOT posting the pics and setting up social media so that others cannot post pics of you and clearly link them to your name. I have a Google alert set up for my legal name and my nickname so that I can monitor what is out there on the internet. Sure there is also a teen soccer phenom and a dentist with the same name as me, but I would hope that employers are savvy enough to figure out neither of those people are me.

      I do care what potential employers can see about me on the web. I am not ashamed of any of my prior employment gigs or hobbies, but I personally want to keep any pictures or information that could be deemed by an employer to show poor judgment off the internet. I do not have a personal website because in my industry that would be weird. I do have a blog or two out there, but they are anonymous and not linkable to my real name. The internet is real and it’s here to stay.

    • Uh. Yes. Always.

    • Anon Lawyer :

      Yes. I once got confronted in a second interview about an article I wrote in college saying I wanted to do human rights law abroad. The interviewer asked me what made me change my mind. I don’t think it hurts to know what’s out there about you. In my situation, I just explained that things changed blah blah blah (essentially I was a naive and idealistic 18-20 year old)

    • pinkrobot :

      The value of google results might fall into the category of ‘highly industry dependent’

      If you’re a serious contender for an interview? Not only am I checking your google results, your twitter feed, and your facebook activity, I’m going to read every paper you’ve co-signed, skim books you’ve worked on, and any projects you have published.

      I won’t sink a candidate if I don’t find anything interesting, but we’ll opt to bring in candidates who do over candidates who don’t. Your google results page is a chance to stand out.

    • Anonymous :

      I always Google someone before interviewing them, and throw in their law school or home town if they have a common name. Usually I end up liking the person even more after seeing their blogs or social media profiles because they seem more like a human being than a resume, but sometimes I do come across a red flag (recent blog posts with horrible spelling and grammar, racist tweets, or fat-shaming Facebook posts [of the “look what this overweight stranger has in her grocery cart” variety]). If I can’t find anything that’s not necessarily bad, but I do have more respect for the candidates who openly manage their virtual personal lives in a way that’s professionally appropriate than for those who feel like they need to put everything on lockdown.

      • Frobscottle :

        You sound fat.

      • So would you say it’s better to maintain a positive presence online rather than try and erase oneself from the internet then? I have a very common name and on Facebook I go by a pseudonym so the only things that come up (once my university and town are thrown in) are academic articles I wrote for my college and my LinkedIn. But after reading your comment I am thinking I might want to make my Facebook accessible…

    • I’ve googled candidates after getting a vibe that I wasn’t getting the whole story regarding gaps in their resume. Let’s just say that if they had simply explained their gaps instead of letting me fill them using the internet, I would likely have made an offer.

  5. Anon for this :

    I highly agree with what TXLawyer and Anonymouse below her said. Depending on where reader T’s clerkship is and at what level, her free speech may be seriously curtailed. This could include not only prohibitions on discussing anything before her judge of course, but as broad as commenting on any other social or legal issues, or any speech that might endorse or criticize a person, issue, or even restaurant for that matter. Even a blog!There are many ethical considerations to speech when you are a government employee, especially in a judge’s chambers. You represent your judge, the court, and possibly the entire state or federal system where your judge sits. You never want to give the appearance that your views are representative of your judge. Something as simple as a restaurant or charity recommendation might be construed very differently when coming from a judge’s law clerk. It sounds silly, but really, I was advised that posting a positive review to a restaurant could result in other attorneys thinking they should frequent that restaurant because my judge or his law clerks eat there or like it. This is of course all dependent on your type of clerkship, and your specific judge. There are judges who blog! I would rather be safe than sorry though, and my limited ability to comment in this online world is very worth my awesome gig! Seriously though–I think before commenting even on a Facebook post endorsing women’s rights!

  6. I think that having a personal page is a really terrible idea. Stuff lasts so much longer than you think…way back when I graduated from b-school, I, along with several classmates, were featured in a USAToday article. That article just WILL NOT DIE.

    Just like you want to “own” being a lawyer now, what if you want to career-change in five years and all your potential new employers pull up is your law page? This seems so oddly self-promotional and tone-deaf. There’s a website for that already–LinkedIn.

  7. Anon in Cali tech :

    It’s in your best career long-term interests to try & control your search results. Google yourself at regular intervals, & if there are things displayed that either are yours & you don’t want them on the 1st page of results or they’re unrelated to you, then be proactive. Put your own info out there – amp up your LinkedIn activity, along with any social media. A personal portfolio website as Kat described is a good idea, as long as it’s search-engine optimized for your name & relevant keywords (in addition to whatever legal issues may be relevant; but that applies after you’ve gotten the job, & employers will be googling you before). Blogging isn’t necessary, just keeping it updated & SEO friendly. Always do a google check quarterly or at the very least before any job searching. And don’t forget what photos of you can show up on Google!

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