It’s not just what you say that can be held against you when you’re looking for a job. It’s also what you post on MySpace, write in your blog and broadcast on YouTube.
That’s because if a potential employer uncovers salacious or otherwise unflattering material about you online, that job offer you were expecting could vaporize. With 77 percent of employers Googling and otherwise researching applicants, you never know what your future bosses may think about those times you ranted about your coworkers or got sloshed at a party. They may simply decide to avoid your questionable past and move on to the next candidate.
“Who wants to be the person in HR who brings in the kid who has bong hits all over his page?” says Michael Fertik, the CEO of ReputationDefender, a services company that helps job seekers clean up their online reputations.
A 2006 survey of 100 executive recruiters by job search and recruiting network ExecuNet found that 77 percent use search engines to learn about candidates. Of those researching candidates online, 35 percent eliminated a candidate from consideration based on information they uncovered online -- up from 26 percent in 2005. ExecuNet predicts that the number of job seekers prejudged or eliminated due to this “digital dirt” will climb.
Is Ignorance Bliss?
Others say the trend may not be as widespread or as likely to accelerate. “I never run them through Google,” says recruiter Michael Kelemen of his candidates. “I call their references for background.”
“I think a lot of the stuff we read about recruiters doing background checks on their candidates online is more rumor than anything else,” adds Kelemen, who runs the Recruiting Animal blog.
Recruiters use Internet searches “to avoid major red flags, but it is just another assessment of a person,” says the anonymous blogger known as Your HR Guy. He adds, “My general view on Internet searches is that, for most positions, ignorance is bliss. Most of what is online for a majority of workers is personal, and most workers’ personal stuff [doesn’t play a role at work].”
But If Everyone Has an Online Past...
Others say the pervasiveness of social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, and the way young people virtually live online mean employers won’t be able to judge candidates based on their digital dirt. If they do, the thinking goes, they will miss out on top-notch employees, given that just about everyone will have some incriminating information online.
In a posting at the Brazen Careerist Web site, Jason Warner, Google’s head of staffing for online sales and operations, contends that this trend “will become a non-issue as this phase of the Internet Age plays itself out.” He suggests five reasons employers won’t spend time worrying about “unfortunate online photos” and “other embarrassing antics”:
- College students have always behaved in this manner.
- More details about everyone will be online.
- Searching for photos won’t be worth recruiters’ time.
- The information is irrelevant.
- It’s a slippery slope, especially if employers start to research existing employees’ outside behaviors.
Warner acknowledged the risks of having “those photos” online, and in a subsequent online discussion about his views at Brazen Careerist, others noted how interviewers and hiring managers may find it impossible to disregard what they learn online about candidates, even if the material falls into the category of forgivable indiscretions.
Clean Up Your Act or Stay True?
Certainly the possibility that a prospective employer can uncover things about your past can create anxiety about whether you should clean up your online image by revising Facebook pages, requesting that videos and blog posts about you be removed, or by hiring ReputationDefender or a similar service.
In a Brazen Careerist article titled “Twentysomething: Raunchy Old Photos Will Be Part of the Revolution,” Ryan Healy, cofounder of Employee Evolution, a Web site for Millennials entering the workforce, said he knows people who have removed materials “to save some face in the real world,” but has never considered doing so himself. “Why should I pretend to be one person for eight hours a day and someone else entirely the rest?” he writes.
And consider this: The generation moving into the workforce may not want to work for an employer that wouldn’t hire a talented 20-something for having a drunken photo on Facebook, suggests Scott Allen, coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online. “The standards are going to radically change,” he says.