If you’re an executive looking for a new role, you know the drill: ready your resume, examine your references, and build that network.

However, the job search HAS changed. Now, there’s one more item you’ll need to focus on–your online identity.

Employers turn to the Internet to dig up information prior to even considering an executive candidate, according to many recruiters. And, as you can imagine, what they find can either propel your job search, or put a damper on it.

If you’re sending out numerous resumes without getting a response despite your leadership abilities and qualifications, I highly recommend checking out your online presence to see what it says about you, starting with these steps:

1 – Find yourself online–and regularly.

Given the importance of online information about you, it’s imperative that you monitor the Web for your own data so that you’re not caught off-guard during your job search.

Set up a Google Alert on your name, which allows you to monitor any fresh information about you that comes online. (Go to http://www.google.com/alerts to use this feature).

This tool acts as an automatic search agent for the criteria you provide, and allows you to receive quick notification by email of any new Web data that contains your name.

You might find that there’s nothing untoward appearing about you on the Web, but monitoring this will save you time and the potential for a surprise in your job search.

2 – Take steps to address what you find.

Suppose you do find negative information? After looking it over carefully, I recommend contacting the source of the data to resolve the situation, if possible.

However, even if the other party actually removes the data by issuing an update, be forewarned that it can take months for the information to slide lower in search engine rankings, and it may never totally drop out of sight.

If you share a name with someone else who has negative online information, you could also consider using a different form of your name, such as your first initial and middle name, in order to avoid being confused with the other party.

If negative data about you persists online, you can start to counteract the effects by placing positive information where executive recruiters can find it. This is best accomplished by creating an online profile through networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, as outline in Step #3 here.

Also, you’ll need to prepare a strong interview response to directly address any damaging information, should the subject arise at that point.

3 – Create at least one active online networking profile.

Creating an online profile practically guarantees that the data you provide–which will accurately and positively reflect your career history, of course–will rise to the TOP of searches on your name.

The reason? Search engines love fresh content, and the more often you update your profile, the more prominently it will be featured during search results for your name.
Choose one or two popular sites to get started, and create a profile that includes a professional summary of your skills.

Add a bullet-point list of your top achievements, along with keywords that represent your core competencies, and a description of your leadership abilities, in addition to your work history and degrees.

Keep in mind that the data you add is searchable by others and must reflect your leadership brand. Add a descriptive title such as “Chief Technology Officer” or “Marketing Strategist” to generate hits on your profile.

Be sure to use the networking site’s import functionality to add “connections” to your profiles–and don’t limit connection activity to your first sign-in. Doing so will refresh the profile data and ensure that search engines will recognize its relevance for searches on your name.

As with all online activity, be watchful of the image you create. Less-than-professional photos, casual blogging on an activity you’d rather keep quiet, or other potentially negative information can make its way to the Web with astonishing speed.

Overall, it pays to support the image you convey to employers with an online presence that matches it, by controlling the information others can find out about your background.

Be aware–and watchful–of the impact your online presence can have on your job search, so that you can stay one step ahead of anyone else who is researching your identity.