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Employers Dig E-Deep

September 15, 2010
By Joe Dysart, SIGNAL Connections

While anecdotes abound about professionals who have lost job opportunities over something they’ve posted online, new research reveals that the risk is greater than suspected. A survey Cross-Tab conducted of more than 1,100 human resources professionals found that 70 percent of recruiters have rejected a candidate for employment based on text, photos or videos they discovered online.

“An applicant’s online reputation can be very important in the hiring process,” says Monique A. Honaman, chief executive officer, ISHR Group. The human resources firm regularly performs job candidate searches in the information technology and communications industry. “Essentially, this person will be representing your business, your brand. It behooves a company to be sure that the individual represents the company in the manner in which it wants to be known,” Honaman explains.

Ursla Key, human resources manager at Segue Technologies, agrees: “Being an IT services company and having a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, we would like our employees to represent us and themselves in a respectful manner.”

Many of the human resources professionals participating in Cross-Tab’s “Online Reputation in a Connected World” study said Web screening of candidates has become a formal requirement in the hiring process. Most of those surveyed readily maintained they considered no online venue exempt from investigation. In addition to typical social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, these executives thought nothing of checking out online gaming sites, virtual worlds, as well as retail, auction and classified sites such as Amazon.com, eBay and Craigslist before offering a position.

All told, 84 percent of the human resources recruiters believe examining people’s personal lives online is acceptable. And even more—89 percent—believe investigating professional credentials online should be the norm.

Recruiters most comfortable with online screening also freely admitted they’re able to unearth much more information about a person online than they’re able to—or even permitted to—via traditional job interviews and background checks. Conventional job interviews, for example, generally do not probe a candidate’s religious, political or other affiliations, nor have such interviews typically delved into topics such as a job applicant’s financial situation or health. But online, much of this information is freely available by looking in the right places, and many recruiters are doing just that.

Not surprisingly, human resources professionals advise all job seekers to clear away the trash before they send out the first résumé. Clearly, there are several obvious gaffes to scrub from the Web before going job hunting, Honaman says, including “inappropriate photos, excessive alcohol/partying, poor language and disparaging comments about current or prior employers, managers or peers. These all indicate a lack of judgment that many potential employers may want to avoid.”

While polishing an online image, job seekers also may want to rack up some points in the plus column by portraying themselves as more involved, more committed and more accomplished than the next person competing for the same job. One approach is to obtain positive recommendations for professional sites such as LinkedIn, posting articles or input on blogs that have been well received, or being quoted or mentioned in a company press release and/or in the online news media.

“If a candidate has a profile on LinkedIn, and someone who has previously worked with him or her has submitted a ‘Recommendation’ on behalf of the candidate, that is a great sign,” Key says. “It gives us a better perspective of their previous performance from a source that has no vested interest in providing the feedback.”

In addition to making the above repairs, job seekers may want to tweak their own online reputation with monitoring tools such as Google Alerts. The service is one way to secure a general idea about what’s being said about them on the Web in major online communities, mailing lists and blogs, which are all places where those looking to shape public opinion tend to congregate.

Another option is Twitter Monitoring. Those seeking employment should sign up for an account on Twitter, the microblogging service, which they can use to monitor the posts. Signing up for an account here also will prevent someone else from using their name or masquerading as them on the service.

Posts on Web blogs can be tracked with the free blogwatch service Technorati, which has been around since the blog phenomena went large. It monitors what’s being said and keeps track of newly created blogs. In addition, Boardtracker.com is a free service that monitors the buzz on the countless discussion boards on the Web.

Other free reputation management tools include BlogPulse; Keotag; SeekingAlpha; Google Trends; and Compete, which tracks the top website referrals for any keyword search.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in New York.