As we continue to publish about our lives on social networks and other social services like Foursquare or Gowalla, the question about how this affects a job search will continue to appear. A recent blog post comes from Allen Stern of CenterNetworks that specifically talks about social location or check-in services. Again, the issue of using social services, or even blogs, can affect your job status. Allen relates a simple anecdote about his job hunting experience several years ago:
For the next 10 minutes she browsed links that had my name associated with them and she explained that they like to look into the background of the people they hire.
This practice is becoming more common now that social networks are so popular. There is more information available about potential candidates than ever before. Allen then asks this question:
Lately we’ve read reports about people losing their job or not receiving a job offer because of what they write about on their blog or post on one of the social networks. But what about the new location tools like Foursquare and Gowalla? Could using one of these services be the quickest ticket to a pink slip or a non-offer?
Given that I have been on both sides of the interview table for several years, I can say that social network usage will absolutely affect your job status more in the future. Over a year ago, we had already started to see some of the affects of “blowing off steam” on social networks. At that time, I wrote about some Virgin Atlantic Airways employees that were venting frustrations on Facebook:
For some reason, many people have the idea that if they use a social network or other popular website they can say whatever they want. People feel that sites like Facebook are their playground. They can talk about their employer or former employer without any recourse. People are finding out that this is not true.
As more social services appear, and more of our lives get documented online, more research of potential employees will occur. What you say on Facebook or Twitter is being searched by various social media monitoring services already. We will probably see vertical-specific applications for social searches in the next few years. How difficult would it be for an application to search the social graph of a person? Many of these services have APIs, and a job application has a lot of personal information that would help someone find the correct person on LinkedIn or Facebook. Once an initial identity is found, it is fairly simple to find your profiles on other social services.
Now, some people will complain about employers doing this kind of search, but it is no different than the typical credit checks, reference checks and background searches that companies perform already. Now, the information is just online and more easily searchable. If you look at the comments from the CenterNetworks post, you will see people calling companies narrow minded or even complaining that their personal life is of no concern to the potential employer. Obviously, this can not be farther from the truth, because your professional life is typically some reflection of your personal life.
Companies typically want a well-rounded and well-adjusted individual. If you happen to be making racist comments on Facebook, they may determine that you would be likely to make these comments in the office and cause the employer to face a potential lawsuit. If you are talking about your current employers confidential information on Twitter, they can assume you would do the same with your next employer. Companies invest a lot of money in new employees, and any advantage in finding a solid employee would be extremely beneficial.
Obviously, the other side of this is that if an internet search results in interesting information, maybe it provides the potential employee an advantage over a less-connected prospect. For example, if you blog about your industry, and you show that you have significant knowledge, that blog could provide the extra boost you need to get a coveted job. For some companies, showing that you are well-connected and active in new things like social media may indicate that you are a “go getter” and not someone who waits around to be given their next task.
The bottom line in this discussion is that your online profile is based on what you provide. If you provide a lot of pictures of you drinking with friends during the week, many employers will frown upon that. You are causing your own handicap in the job search, not the company attempting to hire you. Take control of your online profile, and make sure that it represents who you are. If you don’t, then potential employers will just have to make assumptions about those weird 3AM check-ins at your local diner.