We all Google ourselves. It’s not narcissistic—it’s a great way to keep tabs on our online profile and make sure nothing unfavorable is showing up. (And okay, it’s also a little narcissistic.)

Lately, I’ve been taking my Google game to a whole new level with Google alerts. This tool allows you to see when your chosen word or phrase pops up in the news. (Here’s a great step-by-step tutorial if you’d like some help setting up alerts.)

I monitor “Aja Frost,” so every time I’m mentioned by a news or media outlet, I get an email from Google showing me the source.

But that’s not the only way Google alerts are helpful—in fact, I’ve used them to nail an interview, forge stronger connections, and stay current in my field. Here’s how.

Keeping Up With Companies

There’s no better way to fail an interview than by showing up and knowing nothing about the company. Conversely, there’s no better way to show the interviewer you’d be a great hire than by demonstrating specific, current knowledge of how the company’s doing.

Rather than doing a binge-read through the company’s site and Google results the night before the interview, set a Google alert for its name as soon as you decide to apply. When the company announces it’s brought on a new senior vice president of marketing, you’ll find out that same night. Then, during your interview, you can mention how excited you are about the possibility of working with the new VP—you know he did amazing things at his last job!

(Side note: If one of the companies you want to track has a strong international presence, this would be a great time to use Google alerts’ “region” option to see results from key countries.)

Oh, but don’t go overboard. When I first discovered Google alerts, I immediately set them for my top 15 dream companies. Big mistake—I started getting four or five emails a night and quickly fell behind. Now I track around four. Every company doesn’t show up in the news every day, so it’s definitely a manageable amount.


Networking

It can be a struggle to stay in contact with people who are, well, useful to know, but unconnected to your daily life. I have a hard time emailing my former editors: They’re really busy and I always feel awkward sending them yet another message saying, “How are you? I just finished up my third quarter and…” On the other hand, when I graduate, I don’t want my first message in three years to be, “I’m looking for opportunities in the editorial field—do you know anyone who’s hiring?”

But now that I’ve set Google alerts for the key professionals with whom I want to stay in touch, finding reasons to email is no longer a problem.

Last week, for example, I got a Google alert informing me that a woman I met during an internship two summers ago (mine, not hers), had just launched a startup. I quickly sent her a congratulatory email; not only was she touched I took the time to reach out, but she also said she was impressed at how quickly I’d heard the news.

Unless absolutely everyone in your network is doing newsworthy things all the time, I wouldn’t worry about setting too many Google alerts for people you know. Say you set alerts for 50 people—chances are, you’ll get three emails a week, which gives you plenty of time to write an email or letter to each.


Staying Up-to-Date

Between industry news, local news, national news, and global news, we’re drowning in headlines. And while staying caught up with what’s happening around the world is important, staying caught up with what’s happening in your field is pretty darn essential.

After all, you should be ready to talk about industry news and trends no matter where you are—at a conference, in a meeting, with a client, talking to your boss, competing in a hackathon, giving a presentation, speaking at an event—you get the picture.

To stay up-to-date with what’s going on with content marketing, I set just one Google alert: “content marketing.”

Here’s my rationale. If I set five or six Google alerts (“custom content development,” “content strategy,” “sponsored content,” etc.), then not only will I get overlap, but I’ll be recreating the problem I’m trying to solve—too much to read! That’s why I advise limiting the alerts you set that you expect to be pretty active.

In addition, I set the “content marketing” alert to come just once a week, on Sunday at 5 PM. That’s the perfect time for settling on the couch and absorbing everything that’s happened in the past week. Choose a day and time that’ll give you the opportunity to actually read your results.


Usually, getting more emails is not a good thing. But with Google alerts, each email I get is like a mini career-booster. Will you follow my lead and set them? Do you have alerts going already? Tell me what you track on Twitter!


Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.