Pop quiz: What’s your most valuable asset? Your home? Your 401(k)? Your human capital?
Actually, the correct answer is your reputation. At least that’s the argument made by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson in their new bestseller, The Reputation Economy. And after reading the book and interviewing Fertik, I’m inclined to agree.
Polish Your Reputation
What’s more, if you take the right steps to polish your reputation or “personal brand” (I’ll tell you how shortly), you can make yourself a stronger job candidate. You can also improve your credit score and snag better deals when you travel. “Your reputation is a currency that can get you a job interview and improve the discounts you get,” says Fertik.
(MORE: 10 Ways the Job Search Has Changed)
Conversely, if your reputation is soiled — due to something you’ve done or what others have said about you — that could keep you from getting hired and cost you money.
Reputation Is Power
As the authors of The Reputation Economy say in the first line of their book: Reputation is power.
“Decisions are being made about us all the time based on our data flow on the Internet and increasingly by machines,” Fertik told me. “Everything about our lives is being integrated into a set of scores.”
Fertik ought to know. He’s the CEO and founder of Reputation.com (formerly known as Reputation Defender), a site known for helping people remove nasty, often untrue, things about them online.
Fertik says it isn’t that reputations are more important than they used to be. It’s that “they’re more utilized by more people.” As he notes: “Computers are getting really good. So your reputation in town might be as important as in the past, but in the global village, it’s now knowable and precedes you.”
(MORE: What LinkedIn Won't Tell You)
You Have a Digital Reputation
Think you don’t have a reputation online because you’re not someone who shares digitally? Think again. “The biggest mistake I hear people make is: ‘I don’t post on Facebook so I don’t have a digital reputation,’” says Fertik.
In truth, everything is searchable and stored online now, Fertik says. As a result, your reputation can be scored in many ways, no matter how much or how little you say online.
(MORE: Perils of Posting Reviews on Yelp and Angie's List)
Scores, Scores and More Scores
You know about credit scores, of course, based on how you’ve managed debt. But did you know there are or soon will be: customer value scores, job scores and credibility scores measuring your reputation in their own ways? I didn’t until I read The Reputation Economy.
Customer value scores, already being used by companies, measure how likely you are to spend money. These scores “sound Machiavellian,” says Fertik, but they’re really about helping businesses get the biggest bang for their bucks. They’re getting better and quicker to calculate, too. The Reputation Economy says a company called eBureau, has devised eScores that purportedly rate potential customers for online retailers usually in less than a second.
Job scores, Fertik says, will be used by employers to parse data points predicting how loyal and productive an employee you’ll be. A low score could mean a lower starting salary or keep you from getting hired.
Credibility scores, Fertik predicts, will let companies determine your eligibility to participate in social sharing services like car sharing and apartment sharing. A low credibility score would lead you to pay more than someone with a high score or perhaps prevent you from being able to rent at all.
In the future, Fertik predicts, reputation scores will lead to a “reputation engine,” a new kind of search engine.
Your Career and Your Reputation
For now, though, I think you really need to watch and enhance your reputation online if you’re looking for a job or think you may sometime soon. The more good things about you that a prospective employer or recruiter can easily find, the better you’ll look.
This is where DAMMed comes in. That’s the acronym Fertik’s firm dreamed up and it stands for Decisions Almost Made by Machine. In other words, it’s when computers make decisions with minimal human oversight.
“Recruiters increasingly rely on machines to do a search of 1,000 or 10,000 profiles who might be good candidates to fill a slot,” says Fertik. “They look at job histories, promotion rates, job titles, compensation history and softer things like cultural fit. A company might tell its computers: ‘We want to hire athletes or lifestyle people.’ Then the machine delivers names to the hiring manager who can then interview three people.”
How Job Candidates Can Boost Their Reputations
So what can you do to protect, nurture and enhance your online reputation to make you a stronger job candidate?
For one thing, create a detailed LinkedIn profile and Google yourself with keywords related to your profession to see what comes up. Susan P. Joyce, of Workcoachcafe.com, says more than 80 percent of employers Google prospective job seekers to review their reputations.
“If you don’t have a complete LinkedIn profile and you’re not findable through keyword searches that have to do with your field, someone looking for an expert won’t find you, they’ll find ‘the other guy,’” says Fertik. Job opportunities come to us, he adds, based on “the reputation flag we fly.”
After major job milestones, Fertik and Thompson write, update your LinkedIn profile accordingly. Then, tweet about it on Twitter.
In fact, they say, tweet and post on Facebook professionally often. "Become a broadcaster," the authors note, and this will help others find you.
In the event that you discover something negative or, worse, untrue about yourself online, start doing some "defensive Googling" to prevent it from showing up near the top of a Google search of your name. The Reputation Economy authors say: If you are accused of something false that you can objectively and unequivocally prove false, consider a public response directly refuting the allegation. Set the record straight as widely as you can, they advise, without drawing undue attention to the original allegation.
Another tip: Amass as many legitimate testimonials, endorsements and recommendations — “social proof” — as you can on social networks such as LinkedIn. As the noted employment blogger Joshua Waldman has written, social proof “seriously reduces the perceived risk of you as a candidate.”
You might even want to create a personal website laden with information about who you are and what you’ve done.
As career coach Nancy Collamer blogged on Next Avenue: “A website just might give you the edge you need in a crowded and competitive job market.” And, she noted, you’ll have greater control over what people find online when they do a Google search on you.
In The Reputation Economy, Fertik and Thompson, say it behooves you to work on ways like this to become “reputation rich,” since reputation is becoming more valuable than money or power.
Makes sense to me. After all, everyone wants their valuable assets to appreciate.