A potential employer knows a lot about you.

18 Mar

I was up in Nanaimo yesterday to speak to 3rd and 4th year students in the Graphic Design program at Vancouver Island University. One of the things we talked about was to what degree potential employers are checking out candidates in social media spaces.

Is it right for an employer to examine your personal life? Is it ok that they see pics of you and your mom hugging on Facebook? Of you and your partner on vacation in bathing suits on Flickr? Smoking cigars and puking on YouTube?

I don’t think it’s a question of wrong or right, but can or can’t. Facebook, for example, is not your private club unless you make it so. A fully public profile will be examined by all sorts of people.

Your posts, pics, videos and profiles, however amusing and real, are a source of information that lead back to you as a potential employee. Comments on blog posts such as this can be easily googled by the HR manager.

There is a phenomenal amount of information about you online, which any moderately resourceful person can track down. It can all be very useful in helping an employer reach a decision about you.

It’s 1984 all over again. Beware, comrade.

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6 Responses to “A potential employer knows a lot about you.”

  1. Reg March 18, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    Hey Doug,

    This is a reality now, indeed: more and more I hear of people making it through the candidate screening process only to find the prospective employer, in doing their “background checks”, is increasingly checking out social spaces (they’ve been googling your name for a while already) to see if there are any ‘show-stopper’ indicators of “who you are”. And yes, people have been dropped as candidates (or never even make it that far, depending on the employers’ practices/process) because of material — be it in word or image — they’ve posted.

    However, leaving aside whether I agree or disagree with this practice, I’d suggest that the allusion to 1984/Big Brother is not entirely fair in this context. After all, the social media, including Facebook, have provided privacy controls to prevent “unsavoury” personal materials from being shared. Thus, if you’ve put it out there publicly via that medium, is Big Brother to blame, or you?

    Certainly gives the other half of the equation to the initial unbridled enthusiasm for the social media by the public, including the conscious or unconscious rationale for why people post some of their more ‘indiscreet’ moments so publicly. My rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want your mother seeing it, why would you post it publicly?

    Ah, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned and/or paranoid — I am, however, happily still gainfully employed — and wish to stay that way.

    -R

  2. dougbrowncreative March 18, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks for the comment Reg. Knowledge is power and Big Brother can’t reach the people who have their Internet content figured out. So in that sense, the analogy could be considered half right.
    Are you saying that I should not expect to find photos of you running naked through fields of goats? I’ve taken my down.
    But you raise another interesting point: your rule of thumb. The question for me is not would you mind your mother seeing it, but would you mind a potential employer seeing something that you screened as being acceptable for your mum. How much of your personal life do you want to be considered for your professional life?

  3. Philip March 18, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    I agree that there is a choice to make a profile private. This is true but there are ways to get around these barriers simply by befriending a friend of the potential employee opens up wormholes to read comments and view some tagged photo albums.

    I am not afraid that the content I post on the internet is embarrassing by any means, (maybe one or two pictures of me dressed as Lady Gaga for Halloween 😛 ). When teachers and co-workers add you to facebook, it is up to you to decide how much information you want to limit from them. It is not a personal thing, it is a professional thing.

    The relationship that you have with your grandmother vs. your BFF
    is not the same. I would not want my relatives to be snooping the comments I post, or the fanclubs I join on facebook. This goes the same with a potential employer.
    Once I get the job, then that is a different story XD

    That is all.

  4. Reg March 18, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Well put, Doug. Agreed. And yes, my Facebook profile and content is managed for “family/professional viewing”. However, sadly, I don’t have any sordid naked goat-chasing stories or images to share, so maybe I’m just plain too vanilla for Facebook…?

    Happy (sunny!) Thursday,

    R

  5. barry March 18, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    I might add, taking things down doesn’t mean they’re gone… they can be found floating around on servers for eons to come I’m told, if someone really wants to find them.

    Oh Doug, I hate to point out the obvious, but you are an employer — relax! 🙂 But please don’t put your pic back up, TMI! I know, there’s always a chance you’ll be back in the trenches. Which one is worse, er, better, by the way?

    Bazzah

  6. dougbrowncreative March 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    > Phil, I applaud your perspective and good judgement. From viewing your Facebook profile, I can also say that you look great in a bikini.

    > Reg, I’ve always known you to be a person of such integrity that it doesn’t surprise me you don’t keep a photographic record of your goat-chasing escapades.

    > Bazz, don’t worry. I’m not hunting the dirt down. I’m only interested in the stuff that’s easy to find!

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