Have you googled yourself lately?

I recently came upon a post titled, What will I find if I google you?, written last year by Scientopia blogger gerty-z at Balanced Instability. Although written from the perspective of a new, tenure-track academician giving advice to students with similar aspirations, the main point of the post is relevant to probably any profession: “SEARCH COMMITTEES WILL GOOGLE YOU.” That this is true for industry as well as academia is a fact—over the course of my now three-decades-long career, the past 22 in industry, I have been involved in many a search committee, and particularly over the past 3–4 years a Google search has become a standard part of my resume screening process as I try to whittle down the 10 or so resumes that have survived my initial screening to those 3 to 5 candidates that I will recommend for an interview.

For me, the post had it’s intended effect, as I started wondering what, really, I would find if I googled myself. Of course, I’ve done this in the past, primarily in the early days of my online and social media presence and more out of trivial curiosity than as part of an effort to critically assess what impression the results might give to a prospective employer. Not that I am actively looking for another job—I love what I do, have a reasonable amount of autonomy, and am fairly compensated. Nevertheless, one never knows what opportunity or circumstance might arise and the timing of such, and a favorable online reputation is much easier to maintain than to create or repair on short notice. In my case, that presence is extensive—I’ve blogged regularly for almost five years now and participated to greater or lesser degree in most of the other social media outlets frequented by entomologists—BugGuide, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr, etc.—for much of that same period. This blog alone contains nearly 650 posts and averages somewhere between 500 to 1,000 words per post—that’s in the neighborhood of one-half million words tagged with my very searchable name. Add to that my 3,601 comments here, innumerable comments and mentions on other blogs (including 1,158 on BugGuide alone), and perhaps somewhat sillier musings over on FB and Twitter—well, whatever reputation I’ve accumulated by now I’m probably stuck with, good or bad!

I didn’t think I would find any problems, but gerty-z’s post did convince me that I should at least take the exercise. What if I did suddenly find myself on a candidate short list for that dream curatorship at the U.S. National Museum (right!)? Would Terry Erwin, Steve Lingafelter, and the other members of their search committee be impressed or concerned by what they found when they googled my name? I probably represent the best case scenario for a prospective employer wanting to search my online presence—my first and last names are both fairly uncommon, and add to that the fact that I always sign with my middle initial. Enclose all that in quotes and one has a very specific search term with little likelihood that the results will be diluted by other people. What did I find? 40,800 results! (I made sure to turn off “Personal” results so that I would see the same search results that somebody else googling my name would see). Nevertheless, the results were largely what I expected. The top 4 and 7 of the top 15 results (see below) linked directly to Beetles in the Bush or one of its posts, and all but one of the remaining top 15 results linked to my various online profiles—all but one of which are either professionally oriented or highlight my entomological expertise. That’s a good thing—I’m happy for anyone to see my list of publications, research interests, professional capabilities, etc. The one exception is Facebook, and that is the only social medium I use that might possibly contain content that someone, somewhere, might find objectionable (I generally stick to entomology and photos from travel or my family while avoiding contentious subjects, but sometimes my touch of irreverence sneaks through). Still, it’s not like one will find photos of drunken excess or poor choices on my FB page, so I think my relative FB risk is small. I doubt many prospective employers would look much past the top 15 results, especially with such a consistent picture of who I am (at least who I project myself to be) having already been painted by that point, but those who do choose to look further will find several dozen subsequent results largely linking to blogs on which I have left a comment or been mentioned by name (the latter usually referring back to Beetles in the Bush or thanking me for an insect identification). I also conducted the search on “Images”, and the result was largely the same—page after page of images from Beetles in the Bush or from other blogs on which I had left a comment or been mentioned by name.

gerty-z suggests that Google searches by potential employers have either neutral or negative impacts on their decisions but rarely have a positive impact since anything “awesome” about you that can be found online should also be in your application. I’m not sure I agree with this latter point. Awesome can include more than simply a long list of publications or multiple summaries of degrees earned and experience gained—things that are easy to include in a resume. Awesome can also include a well-practiced commitment to high quality writing, or consistent involvement in outreach activities, or demonstrated taxonomic expertise far beyond that implied by a list of publications, or even a solid foundation of knowledge in subjects beyond one’s immediate area of expertise but that nevertheless enhance perspective. These are concepts that are much more difficult to capture or highlight in a resume but that might tip the balance in a candidate’s favor if all other considerations are equal. The point is, don’t look at your online presence only as something to manage to prevent failure, but rather as a potential tool to help build a positive reputation and enhance the information provided in your application.

Top 15 results from search on “Ted C. MacRae”

  1. Beetles In The Bush
  2. About the Author « Beetles In The Bush
  3. A visit to the Dallas Arboretum « Beetles In The Bush
  4. Ted C. MacRae (tcmacrae) on Twitter
  5. Ted C. MacRae – The Coleopterists Society – An International …
  6. Ted C. MacRae – BugGuide
  7. Ted C Macrae | ResearchGate
  8. Ted MacRae | Facebook
  9. Ted C. MacRae – Gravatar Profile
  10. Ted C. MacRae – Wikispecies
  11. Program Announcment: 2012 ESA Annual Meeting « Beetles In The …
  12. MacRae, T. C. 2000. – Beetles In The Bush

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

9 thoughts on “Have you googled yourself lately?

  1. For my part, “Christopher Taylor” happens to be one of the least Google-able names imaginable. Do you have any idea how many Christopher Taylors there are out there? I just tried running a search: the first result that connected to me personally wasn’t until page 3, and the second wasn’t until page 9. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing: what if someone mistakes one of the higher-up results for me? Especially on the image search, which for some reason brings up page after page of criminal mug shots.

  2. The trick is to make sure that you have disabled google custom search when you try that, though. Google will alter it’s ranking for you, if it has set a cookie–ever. The best way to get an unbiased search is to use a third party computer that is blocked from cookies or cashe storage, like a library.

    On the other hand–well done, you, for having such a clear and positive presence online!!

    • Thanks, BG – yes, I disabled custom search but forgot to mention. Maybe a computer I’ve never used would still give slightly different results, but I doubt they would alter the picture that much.

  3. I’ve done this exercise just this week, in preparation for a talk I’m giving at the ESC meeting. I am super-google-able. One of the take-home messages I hope to convey to other grad students is the importance of cultivating a professional online presence – I’m often amazed by the apparent invisibility of otherwise really excellent students!

  4. I tried the full name (what I prefer to use professionally) in double quotes, but used Google Images. The first 15 or so were directly relevant – images, book covers, bits of interactive keys – but then things started going downhill and by page 19 there was almost nothing relevant. (In case anyone out there is wondering, I am not the guy that ‘likes to dance naked in front of his pets’.) Perhaps the most interesting result was seeing so many pages from my journal papers showing up as images. The most incomprehensible was a site for Vaudeville post cards with cards liberally sprinkled through the image pages.

    The Web Search is front-loaded to infinity (well, to the limits of my interest) with citations of books, scientific papers, and Wikipedia taxon citations. So, if you want to bury something embarrassing on the web, I recommend publishing something citable about some obscure, but diverse, group of organisms and letting Wikipedia to do the cover-up for you.


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