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I’m Not A Lawyer, But…
According to an April 11, 2014 piece on NPR:
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 77 percent of employers now use social networking to recruit candidates, up from 34 percent six years ago. About a dozen states have banned employers from asking workers for their social media passwords, and Congress is considering several measures that would make that a national policy.
But as far as using information that a job seeker makes publicly available, the rules aren’t exactly clear. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has not issued specific rules governing social media.
Since so much of the searching is done unofficially, [University of Illinois Management professor Don] Kluemper says rules might not even help.
While The Legality Is Still Murky, Employers ARE Googling Job Applicants And Employees
As reported in that NPR piece, 77% of employers are now active in social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and it’s a safe bet they’re using their newfound social media savvy to vet employees and job candidates.
This post from last October on The Employer Handbook, a site intended for Human Resources professionals, reported that nearly half of employers routinely investigated job applicants online, and I’d wager that number has only gone up in the year since that piece ran.
That same Employer Handbook article goes so far as to provide helpful tips for its readers to use when researching job applicants and employees online.
Alarmingly, this Forbes piece from all the way back in 2009 reported that at that time:
What’s even more surprising is that a whopping 35% of managers admitted to not offering jobs based on what they found on those social pages, reported the New York Times. Most of the time, employers are put off by photos involving nudity, drink, and drugs, writes privacy expert Daniel Solove at Concurring Opinions.
If You Don’t Want Them To Find It, Don’t Post It In The First Place
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as online privacy. NEVER post anything online, or send anything via email, instant message or app that could cause you embarrassment, legal or employment difficulties if it were to become public because it can happen at any time.
It doesn’t matter if you mark it “private”, limit its visibility to “Friends”, et cetera et cetera. There have been plenty of malicious and accidental data leaks that exposed supposedly private pictures, videos, emails, texts and other online material, and there will always be more.
Even Twitter and Facebook have had incidents where a software update to their sites unintentionally exposed users’ private content.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
Aside from not posting anything you don’t want found to begin with, here are some steps to take.
1. Google yourself.
You may not even be aware of all the stuff relating to you that’s available online and viewable to the general public. If you want to know what a current or potential employer can easily and (as of this writing) legally find out about you online, this is the fastest and easiest way to do it.
Do a search of your name on Google and every other major search engine you know of. Make sure you’re logged out of any and all websites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, online dating sites, etc.) first, so that you will only be able to see what a stranger could see when following links to those sites.
If you find anything you believe an employer may find objectionable, clean it up and/or delete it.
2. If possible, establish your own web presence.
Being able to provide a web address right on your resume is a good pre-emptive move. It won’t prevent employers from doing their own online research as well, but it will help to avoid confusion in situations where someone else with the same name as yours, or a very similar name to yours, is splashed all over the internet with content that shows they’re engaged in illegal or controversial activity. If the employer sees YOUR web page first, they’ll be less likely to jump to wrong conclusions.
If you have zero web skills, this will be easiest to do on a pre-existing site like LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides a basic, free membership option.
If you DO have some basic HTML knowledge, it’s very easy to set up and customize a free blog and use it to display your current resume and contact information. A good one for beginners to try is Google’s Blogger.
I say that you should have at least a little HTML knowledge before attempting this because you will need those skills to properly format your resume so that it looks attractive on a blog page. Having a sloppy-looking online resume is actually worse than having no online resume at all, so if you’re at all unsure about your ability to handle this I suggest you go back to the LinkedIn option.
3. Get your friends to delete or clean up anything they’ve posted about you online.
You may have done a great job of cleaning up and/or deleting any potentially problematic content you’ve posted online, but what about pictures, videos, comments, Tweets and so on that friends have posted about you? If your pal uploaded all those drunken bachelor party pics to Instagram and you’re clearly visible in any of them, it’s safest to assume they can be found.
Also ask friends to “un-tag” you in any content where they’ve specifically listed you by name.
4. Know that the cleanup results won’t be instant.
Even after you and your friends have spiffed up your online image, saved or “cached” versions of the offending content stored on various servers will still be accessible online for a period of weeks to months. Not everyone knows how to view cached versions of web pages, but you can bet anyone in the employer’s IT department knows how. It’s also safest to assume that HR professionals are savvy to such tricks of the online trade.
For this reason, it’s best to undertake your cleanup mission as early as possible in your job hunting schedule.
5. Don’t count on legal action to save you.
While some states have made it illegal for employers to conduct certain types of online research, such as asking applicants or employees to hand over their login credentials for social media and other sites, many states don’t have such laws on the books yet and even in those that do, it’s very easy for employers to skirt the limits of the law.
After all, there’s no way for you to prove an employer Googled you or conducted some other online research about you, assuming they haven’t actually asked for your usernames and passwords. Also, remember that anything they can find via a simple Google search is considered public, and not subject to any presumption of privacy.
See this Career Attraction piece, How To Survive Being Googled By Potential Employers, for more tips.
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