Getting social - what's the impact of your social footprint on prospective employers?

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Apr 2014

12 Apr 2014 • by Changeboard Team

The new reference check: your social footprint

So, you have that long awaited job offer in the bag and all that stands in the way are the usual references and the medical checks. You're a healthy person, youre not on the sex offenders' register and you have never been on the wrong side of the law. On top of that you've provided three cracking personal references. Everything sorted right? Think again.

You could be forgiven for thinking that you have already jumped through some pretty significant hoops in the pursuit of that dream job. And you would be right of course. Its tough out there and in just the same way jobseekers dont want to take risks, neither do employers.

So if you make it through the behavioural interviews, competency interviews, psychometric, numerical and verbal tests and of course the informal meet and greet with the rest of the team it would only be natural to think that once the offer is in, you can start to celebrate.

Well, I suggest you resist the temptation to resign just yet. Despite the vast array of robust selection tools already in existence, a growing number of employers are making the most of the explosion in social media and introducing the practice of checking out candidates by using their online social footprint.

What makes up your social footprint?

To the uninitiated, your social footprint means pretty much anything you have ever said, done or participated in online including:

Ok I hear you say. LinkedIn, fair enough, it is after all, completely career focussed and contains your career history on one easy place. But have you answered any questions?  Or taken part in any discussions? If you have, recheck your answers.   

What? But  I know what you are thinking, but according to many recruiters your facebook page is now fair territory for research on the kind of person you are. From what is written on your wall oh dear, the swearing and innuendo... to the pictures you post in your albums the pictures too? Yes, the pictures too. Including the ones of you at your worst at a recent stag do in Amsterdam.

If you are twittering, your tweets could also be scrutinised, especially as they are now being included, real time, in Google search Results.

Many people blog about work, life, the universe and anything else that takes their fancy. Up until now, those thoughts were pretty low profile but with the rise in popularity of social media, a persons blog is rapidly taking centre stage. 

Blog comments, forums and discussions
Possibly more dangerous than your own blog, especially if you have ever replied with passion to someone elses opinion on a subject I know I have.

Reference checks or simply intrusion?

Basically, whatever you have said or done online, including pictures, in any of the above places (and any others that are not listed) is now considered fair game in terms of use as a way of assessing you as an individual, as it is in the public domain according to those that are using it. So, if you have ever blown a gasket at someone, made a joke about dodgy substances, published pictures of yourself in various compromising positions or questioned someones sexuality, even in jest, it might just come back to haunt you. 

Of course this stuff is somewhat subjective. Quite what employers are looking to measure/scope/assess here that they cant already assess more professionally, ethically and accurately in other ways, Im not sure. This question has yet to be adequately answered. And the implications of making employment decisions based on information gleaned from these sources has yet to be determined. I suspect at some point we will see case law emerging as someone is sure to Challenge this practice at some point.

How can I 'protect' my social footprint?

What can you do if you are concerned about your social footprint and the impact it might have? Well, to some extent, not a lot as what is out there is out there, and its not that easy to remove it even if you wanted to. 

I wouldnt suggest a wholesale sanitisation of your online persona you are, after all, an individual, and how you express yourself in your own personal way, in non work-related online communities defines the wonderfully unique person that you are.

However, it might just be worth having a review of what you do have online and taking some precautionary steps.

Step 1: review your privacy settings

Its an obvious one, although it doesnt guarantee your information will remain private. 

One recruiter said to me the other day, If its up there, I'll find it, no matter what. 

Check, for example, that only your friends and family can access your facebook profile and your flickr (or similar) picture galleries. Do the same for all similar sites.

Step 2: review your online 'voice'

I know, I just said you are an individual and the better for keeping it that way. But if you are prone to passionate responses or have strong views about certain things (like I have) then possibly best to just think about how that may be coming across. 

The online world is not the same as sharing views and thoughts in a meeting, at a conference or in the pub. There is no body language or situational dialogue to put into context what you are trying to say or the point you are trying to make. In isolation, in the cold light of day, it can make your opinion look extreme.

Check what's being checked

If you have concerns then raise them with the recruiter. As with other more common reference checking measures, there should be no secrecy about checking your social footprint. 

In fact, if an employer or recruiter is going to do this without getting your buy in first, you may want to ask yourself if this is the type of company you want to work for anyway.

The future of social media & recruitment

Where this will end up, Im not sure. The debate is heating up though. Only last week I took part in a three way live debate between the UK, the US and Australia on the subject and it was fiercely debated.  

What I can tell you is that there are recruiters out there who are, right now, looking at your pictures on facebook/flickr, reviewing how many bars you go to using FourSquare and generally trying to assess your alchoholic/loner/deviant status using the social web. 

Doesnt sound quite so social anymore does it?!

Social media - the ongoing debate

If you have a view, I would be happy to hear it either way. You can do this by either dropping me a line via email, catching me on twitter or joining in the debate in our LinkedIn group 

My contact details are on my profile on the Changeboard site.