Research shows that an increasing number of employers are conducting online searches of job candidates and are influenced by what they find. Nicky talks to one such employer about his routine online checks of job applicants and offers some hints and tips to help you assess and improve your online profiles…
Recent research showed that 77% of recruiters said they used search engines to find background data on candidates and 35% admitted they eliminated a candidate because of what they found online. (Execunet, The Guardian 12 April 2011) Yet when I’ve discussed these figures with job hunters during Talk About Work pilot training sessions, I’ve sometimes been met with surprise and disbelief – many feel that potential employers wouldn’t have the time or inclination to go searching online for information about candidates. That may very well be the case for some employers but others do look to gleam an impression of candidates by doing a simple search on places like Google and Facebook.
I recently spoke to Ben*, a teacher who has his own tutoring company that employs teachers and teaching assistants, who freely admits to conducting online searches of job candidates and using what he finds to inform his decision:
“I have to turn more people away than I actually employ which is quite a good thing for me. One of the filtering processes is of course they’ve got to be CRB checked, but before we even get to that stage we’ve got to see they’re an okay candidate for working with children and also being professional in all aspects. I’m quite interested in people who demonstrate professionalism at all times so one of the checks that I do is I use social media. It’s very useful, especially if they’ve got an unusual name, you just type in their name and you can find out quite a lot about them. Not just social media but also just general internet searches – Google and other search engines as well.”
I asked Ben what online searches he would do for my name if I were to apply to his tutoring company for a job. He said his first ports of call would be Google and Facebook:
“Number one search: Google – type your name in there and see what came up. I’d be quite interested if you came up on the first page for good or bad reasons, that’d be quite interesting. Next Facebook, depending on your privacy settings I should be able to access your profile at least. And you can spot things, even if it’s just a picture. That picture has to look presentable. Not you after a heavy drinking session, that kind of thing – because that’s the image that you’re portraying to your friends your family, and what actually are you going to be like as a person?”
Ben unsurprisingly said he would instantly rule out candidates who posted about innappropriate or illegal activities online:
“I’ve got a ‘no drugs’ policy, if you take drugs in your social life and I find out about it you’re instantly sacked…So if people are posting things like that, that’s wrong.”
However, Ben also said that his opinion would be influenced by more subjective things, such as a seemingly negative attitude, or letting off steam about a current or previous employer:
“I also check Twitter, I’m very active on Twitter… Not many people use Twitter though, I think 1% of people are using Twitter at the moment but it’s powerful because you can pick up quite a lot. To be honest if you’re moaning all the time on Twitter you’re not going to get very far because it tells you what your personality is like. If you’re a negative person – we are a very positive organisation, we are helping children to become the best that they can…so I want the people who are going to empower them, motivate them and make them feel good about themselves…
“To be honest if you’re complaining about your current boss that means you’re going to be complaining about me as well, regardless of whether I’m doing anything good or bad. If that’s your mindset, if that’s your attitude, that’s what you’re going to be doing.”
You may feel that the privacy settings on your online profiles would prevent a potential employer from being able read them but Ben warned people to guard against being complacent about this and advised keeping an eye on changes in the terms and conditions of social networks:
“People post random things, I post random things as well. Going back to that negativity/positivity thing, those things actually stay within search engines for a long time. In fact, they’re archived forever in some locations so we can go back into the archives. Even if your security settings are set so high that it’s private and only you and your friends can access it, those privacy settings may be changed in the future without your consent, as has happened in the past, so what we thought was private data suddenly becomes public. It might only be for one day before the settings are reset by yourself but that one day gives people an opportunity to access everything you posted.”
Why not take control and check whether your online profiles project a good image to a potential employer? Try doing a Google search of your name, including your area name as well if your name is quite common – for instance ‘Bob Madeupname Kettering’ or ‘Bob Madeupname ACME industries’. What comes up? If you have a Facebook profile, try checking how your profile looks to other people and change your privacy settings if needs be. If you’re on Twitter, be mindful of what you post (you can protect your account if you want to).
Of course, some of the information posted about you online may not have been posted by you but there are things you can do if you’re unhappy with the content. You can try contacting the publisher and politely requesting that they remove or alter the offending posts. On Facebook, you can untag yourself from posts or photos you’d rather not be associated with and remove posts left by others on your wall.
It is well worth checking what information about you is currently available online and thinking about what it conveys because even if you don’t take the time to look, a potential employer very well may.
Do you feel that employers like Ben conducting these online checks of job candidates is fair or right? Do you think it is ethical that employers are letting their decisions about people be influenced by non-professional information they manage to find on the internet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.
[*Ben is not the interviewee's real name]