min read

How recruiters find your profile online

We all have a user profile somewhere, but not every profile is likely to appear on top of the search results.

September 29, 2020
Yuma Heymans
September 7, 2022

Everybody has a profile somewhere. Actually, most people have more than one. On average we have 8.4 social media accounts.

Whether you’re on LinkedIn, GitHub, Twitter, Medium, Dribbble, AngelList or Facebook, your user profile determines for a significant part who can find you online. By better understanding how people find you online, you can also learn how to better find people yourself.

Why your findability matters

The typical person who’s going after people online is a recruiter. Most of the recruiters are entirely dependent on a single source to find people, LinkedIn. But the most effective recruiters use a variety of platforms to find the people who are best at what they do. Some of the other sources that recruiters might use in their search are GitHub, Stack Overflow, Twitter, Medium, AngelList, Reddit, people records, CV databases, even YouTube and TikTok can be potential sources of talent.

The process from a recruiter perspective usually starts with a search based on a job title, some keywords and search filters like location and experience level. When they’ve found some interesting profiles they make a shortlist and decide on who they are going to reach out to. Reaching out is basically sending a personalized or automated message to you on LinkedIn or mail you if they can find you email address.

A profile that is up to date with a clear background description, skills and interests is a lot more likely to be found online than one with very limited information.

Some people’s profiles are never found, and some profiles often appear on top of search results. You couldn't say that there is one profile that always ends up on top of the search results, but a common situation for recruiters is that they keep seeing the same profiles popping up in their searches. That usually has to do with how complete a profile is and if the right language is used (generating 'keywords' that recruiters search for).

This is an example of a profile that is likely to appear on top of search results when recruiters are searching for 'JavaScript Engineer':

In this blog we show you how recruiters search and which tools they use to find you.

How recruiters find you

Over the years, people have made a profession out of searching for people online. One part of the recruiting process is dedicated to sourcing. Sourcing in recruitment is the process of finding and attracting the right candidates based on a given set of job criteria. Also in business development and specifically prospecting, finding people has become a dedicated role. The people who take things one step further in finding people are people specialised in open-source intelligence (OSINT). OSINT is a specialised domain where people are dedicated to finding people based on data that is accessible in publicly available sources which is heavily used in the army but also in business.

The sourcing, prospecting and OSINT specialisations use similar approaches to finding the right people.

Information recruiters use in their search

It all starts with the information that is available on a profile. The information that is available is very dependent on the platform where the profile is on and the habits of the individual user in terms of profile completion and maintenance. Recruiters have become very savvy with ways of searching for the right information and differentiating their search techniques.

Here’s a list of profile elements and how they are searched for by recruiters:

  • Name (full name, first name): When recruiters already have your name and they want to learn a bit more from you, they might Google you to see what kind of platforms you're on and what else they can find out about you.
  • Titles (job titles, headlines): Titles are usually the starting point for most searches. In most search engines you can search for job title or headline. The title that people give themselves can really differ so recruiters have to be smart about using synonyms for job titles to get the full picture of available talent.
  • Username: A username like 'starwarslover1986' or just 'janesmith' can be used by recruiters to do a name check. Based on the username tools like Whatsmyname.app or NameCheckup show other platforms that the username is found on. This way the recruiter can learn more from you when you are active on other social media platforms.
  • Profile picture: Your profile picture can also be used as a tool to find other sources where the same or a similar picture of you is shown. With a reverse image search people can find out on what other platforms and websites your profile picture is shown.
  • Description (summary, free format text): Your descriptions generate keywords that are one of the most important factors in matching the search of the recruiter with your profile. Recruiters build their 'search string' with 'search operators' like AND and OR in between keywords to make long and detailed searches (if you want to learn yourself how to use these read this blog on Boolean operators and advance operators).
  • Location: Most platforms with profiles have a location filter. Recruiters use these to find people that can work locally and who are likely to speak the local language.
  • Tags: Tags can be anything from skills to interests to themes, depending on the platform. There is usually no difference for recruiters in searching for tags or searching for keywords.
  • Contact info: Contact information can be anything recruiters can reach you on like an email address, phone number or links to social media platforms with chat. Because contact details are usually spread across several public sources, recruiters use tools to find contact details.
  • Statistics: Statistics are figures that can represent anything like your rank, status, mentions or amounts of followers, connections or posts. Some platforms like GitHub, Stack Overflow and Kaggle provide search filters which recruiters can use to find highly active or highly ranked users.
  • Activities: Activities can be anything from posts by the user to questions and answers to uploads of articles and other documents. Most of the activity is best found through a Google search searching for related keywords.
  • Emojis: Emojis are used to indicate certain sentiment or activity. Many people use emojis but what a lot of people don't know is that Emojis can also be used to search people. An X-ray search in google with the hacker cat emoji for example returns mainly engineers: site:linkedin.com/in 🐱‍💻 (here’s how recruiters can use Emojis to find people online).

How you can optimize your profile information to be found online

What information you should optimize depends on the platform(s) you are on and on your goals. Are you on LinkedIn and looking for a job? Then you want to include as many keywords in your descriptions that relate to what you do and turn your ‘open to work’ settings on. If you are an active developer and you want to contribute to writing quality code, you should upload your code repositories to GitHub and answer questions from other developers on Stack Overflow.

The absolute majority of recruiters still search profiles based on keywords (although search in general is increasingly complemented by intent and sentiment based mechanisms). Because of the mainly keyword based approach, almost everything comes down to the words you use on your profile: what those words are, how often they occur, if people are searching for those words and if those words are put in the right places.

If you want to be found online, here are some general guidelines to improve your findability on any platform:

  • Include your full name (first and last name) if you want people that know you to find you (example: ‘Mary Poppins’, not ‘Mary P’).
  • Write extensive descriptions that cover all the most important keywords around your background, your current skills and your interests ~250 words. Use all the relevant descriptions fields; the summary, about section and job descriptions.
  • Use standardized words in fields like job titles and headlines. People hardly search for keywords like ‘Wizard’ or ‘Sensei’ (example: Job title - ‘JavaScript Engineer’, not ‘Web Dev Wizard’).
  • Be exhaustive in the fields you include, use optional fields to include details on what you can do and what you want to do (example: add skills Sales, Direct Sales, Sales Enablement, SaaS Sales and Sales Strategy. Not just Sales).
  • Use different ways of phrasing and if you can, use synonyms for words that you use recurrently (example: ‘Worked as a Senior Data Engineer on an Omnichannel Platform-as-a-Service (OPaaS) solution using Apache Beam, Spark, Kafka and no-SQL databases like BigTable, Hbase and Druid...’. Not just ‘Engineer for startups').
  • Check your public information that’s available online. Anything that’s public online can be found and used by recruiters to determine if they reach out to you. If you for example have a public video on YouTube that doesn’t represent who you are (today) you might want to have that video deleted. See the tips in the next section on how to check your digital footprint.

Tip: Look for a job description that matches your dream job and include the keywords mentioned in that job post on your profile — stay true to what you are actually capable of, don't lie.

Check yourself

In your lifetime you are creating a so called digital footprint. You are leaving your own digital trace behind with all the profiles you create and your online activities. In most cases it can really help to get opportunities your way. However, you might want to check your digital footprint once in a while because you want to make sure that the public information online (still) represents you.

Here's what you can do to check your digital footprint:

1. Google yourself

The most obvious way of checking your digital footprint is Googling yourself. Do a Google search with your full name and check the first 10 to 30 search results. Anything that shouldn't be there? Delete it yourself or if that's not in your control, request to delete it.

2. Check the platforms you are on

Check which platforms you can be found on by using tools that check your username across the internet. Use Whatsmyname.app or NameCheckup and insert your username. In case you forgot yours, most people use their first and last name behind each other: ‘marypoppins’, possibly with a number behind it.

3. Check which of your contact details are public

Find out which contact details can be found from you online. Are your email address and phone number available to the public? Find out with a tool like ContactOut or Lusha. After installing one of the chrome extensions navigate to your LinkedIn profile and see which contact details the tools can find.

4. Do a keyword search

Do a site: search for your profile in Google. Start your Google search with site:linkedin.com/in and include keywords after that describe you. Example: when I search for site:linkedin.com/in co-founder my profile appears on the top search results in Google (Yuma Heymans). See how many keywords you have to include before you appear in the first page results.

5. Do a reverse image search

You can do a reverse image search with Google or Yandex to find out in which other places your profile picture is found. Reverse image searches are not very accurate yet but the technology is developing fast.

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