Online Searching in the Interview Process

You’ve gotta read this if you are interviewing or hiring somebody.

According to Heather Havenstein at ComputerWorld, “One in five employers uses social networks in hiring process“. And “CareerBuilder.com says one third of hiring managers rejected candidates based on what they found,” states the subtitle.

The top areas of concern found on social networking sites include:

  • Information about alcohol or drug use (41% of managers said this was a top concern)
  • Inappropriate photos or information posted on a candidate’s page (40%)
  • Poor communication skills (29%)
  • Bad-mouthing of former employers or fellow employees (28%)
  • Inaccurate qualifications (27%)
  • Unprofessional screen names (22%)
  • Notes showing links to criminal behavior (21%)
  • Confidential information about past employers (19%)

The study did find that 24% of hiring managers found content on social networks that helped convince them to hire a candidate. Hiring managers said that profiles showing a professional image and solid references can boost a candidate’s chances for a job.

Interesting statistics.

When I was a hiring manager, I always looked up my candidates online. First, I’d use Google (GOOG). Then LinkedIn. Then Facebook.

The people in my industry, the Internet industry, are typically web-savvy and tend to have some kind of web presence. So it’s easy to find out more about them.

But even if you’re not in the Internet industry, I think every employer should consider doing this. You are already doing a background check. This is just another form of a background check – a check on a candidate’s personality, culture, interests, and values.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t this an invasion of privacy? How are the stupid things I’ve done in college relevant to me now that I’m thirty? Why should my outrageous partying be a factor of my qualifications?”

Sure, those are fair questions. Here are my answers.

Isn’t this an invasion of privacy?

I admit that there’s a creepy big-brother-ish quality to this. But if your information is online, then it’s already public. It’s not private. So if you want it private, work to remove it.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible or easy to remove harmful information from the Web, especially with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and Google’s cache.

But fortunately, if you’re tech-savvy enough, there are things you can do. You can prevent the Wayback from archiving your site and get Google to delete pages from their cache. Ah ha!

The other thing you can do is to police your online personal brand closely. Monitor it and shape it. It takes some effort, but it can be worth it – especially if you’re in the Internet space.

Otherwise, you should consider searching for yourself to see what comes up. If you like the results, then you’ll be fine – because that’s what your interviewer will see. If you don’t like the results, however, then you’ll have to do some damage control. See if you can remove or revise what’s online. Buy your friend a drink so he’ll take down that photo of you with the keg and “Party Nekkid” t-shirt, for instance.

How are the stupid things I’ve done in college relevant now?

They are and they aren’t. They are, simply because some interviewers will see it and make a judgment call. Some believe that that past behavior is an indicator or predictor of future behavior. So if you’re prone to streaking across your college campus, your interviewers might assume they’ll see your ass running down the hallway (no pun intended).

They aren’t because, really, who didn’t go a little crazy in college? This is more of a message to hiring managers than candidates, but don’t forget that college was a different time and a different environment.

Personally, I like to see a candidate with some kind of fun side. I don’t mind someone who parties hard, as long as he or she works hard too. In fact, hiring someone who knows how to let loose and have fun can be a desirable thing. It adds to the culture of the company, shakes things up, and makes the office more fun.

Also: if an interviewer dings you for being a fun person, then maybe you don’t want to work for that company.

Why should my outrageous partying be a factor of my qualifications?

If you were an outrageous party maniac in the past, that’s one thing. If you’re still an outrageous party maniac, then that’s a reason for an interviewer to hesitate. As a hiring manager, I’d have to wonder if you’re going to show up to work late and hung over. Or call in sick often. Or be sloppy about your work.

Seeing this kind of behavior wouldn’t necessarily weed a candidate out for me. I’d still want to meet the candidate and see how they present themselves in the interview. If I’m still unsure, I’d test them somehow to try to gauge how well they can do their job (probationary period, in-house exercise, take-home exercise, contract-to-hire, etc).

It’s not that being an outrageous party maniac means you’re a bad employee. It means there’s a potential red flag about your work ethic. That red flag could be totally unfounded – you could be one of those people who truly works hard and parties hard. But it will still raise a red flag. You may think that’s unfair, but that’s how many hiring managers think.

What really does matter

You know what would really hurt you? If I found examples of one of these, then I’d ding you and drop your resume in the trash:

  • Inaccurate qualifications – This is huge. Don’t lie. If I catch you in a lie, then I’ll know I can’t trust you.
  • Unprofessional behavior – If you publicly bad-mouth your former employer, fellow employees, or display confidential information, then I’m going to assume you’ll do it to me too.
  • Poor communication skills – Good communication skills is very important to just about any job out there. If you can’t articulate yourself well, please consider a communication class.
  • Information about alcohol or drug use – Alcohol is fine, alcohol abuse isn’t. Drug use isn’t at all.
  • Notes showing links to criminal behavior – Well, duh.

I should add that I’ve made lots of exceptions before. If the candidate demonstrates tremendous ability and can assure me that he/she is dependable, then I’ll make significant allowances to their background. After all, we’ve all made mistakes in the past. If we’ve learned from those mistakes, we shouldn’t be shackled by them.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

2 thoughts on “Online Searching in the Interview Process”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that it is imperative you monitor your online presence and search engine trail. Not only are interviewers using the web to search your background, so are Human Resources personnel, who may not be as discriminating as some interviewers. Mike here is fairly lax about his criteria but many interviewers are not.

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