HR to Applicants: We’re Looking at You Online

It’s not just political candidates who are being thoroughly researched these days.  At a conference a couple of weeks ago, I sat next to a senior executive at one of the few remaining, solvent investment houses and the conversation drifted to social media.

Somehow, we got on the topic of hiring.  She flat out stated: “When I get my list of final candidate when hiring, the FIRST thing I do is Google them. And then I look up their profiles on Facebook.”

And this is not at all unusual.

I have said for years that Google’s largest step was not their IPO, but when their company name went from a noun to a verb.  Like Xerox did a few years ago.  But Google has indeed become part of our lives, our work, and an important tool for HR people.

Think about the hiring process.  I was an executive in the employment industry (beginning in the pre-Internet days) before we could Google someone, but I can promise you that, especially in a down economy, the front-line person whose job it is to go through a bazillion resumes is to carry out a search for the negative. To get through the pile, you usually start by eliminating people you don’t want so you can get to the people you do want.

As an applicant, your exercise is to put your best foot forward and make yourself look like you walk on water.  It’s a bit of a dance, but the rise of search engines and social media tools have changed the employment dynamic.  As you are pressing your suit and combing your hair, that HR person is likely doing an extensive online search on you.  So it’s important to think about the following:

  1. What have I written out there (blogs, comments on other people’s sites) that I would not want someone to see?
  2. What, if anything has been written or posted (like um…photographs) that I would not want someone to see?  And speaking of pictures, is there a Flick account out there that needs some editing?
  3. Is my Facebook profile public?
  4. Is my Twitter account readily identifiable?
  5. What have I bookmarked on

I could go on an on with other social media tools, but you get the picture.  Most employers are, by nature, cautious.  It used to be that they would get a chance to find out about you by asking tough questions during the interview.  Now, if you do not have good answers to the above, they may well already have some of the answers.

I am by no means saying that people should not be active on social media sites.   Just remember that what you write, the pictures you pose in, and the seemingly flippant comments you might make on someone else’s site are already in your employment profile.




  1. Thira Sannikorn Says: November 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    First, I have to say- when I finish reading this blog, I opened google and searched my name, and i saw my profile on Facebook as a result. It makes me to realize that I should aware what information I put and comment on these social media tools.

    Last week, I faced scamp though social media because I posted the room for renting on website and putted my e-mail for people to contact. They used search engines to search my name and found out that I’m an international, so they sent out the fake cashier check with the over amount of money and told me to deposit the money and send those amount reminder back to them. Good luck to me that I didn’t send any money to them. I went to bank and the bank told me the check is fake. The scamp knew that I just came and I didn’t know that they used these technique to get money from other people as usual (according to what the bank told me).

    Therefore, what I try to say is I agree to Mark that we should concentrate on what information to put on social media and be aware of the message we receive from social media too. I feel like now most people become familiar to use the social media to search information. Some people may use it in the good way but some people may not.

  2. This topic immediately made me think of my mother – who is always preaching about what you shouldn’t put on the internet. She is convinced, despite the fact that my Facebook profile is set to private – new friends in the MPPR program couldn’t find me – that companies can get access and I best have my best face forward on it.

    The subject opens up a lot of other discussions such as students not being admitted to college over online information or pictures, being fired or disciplined for something you wrote/did online….it’s all a part of our lives now. This directly ties back to earlier blog discussions about our online reputation. One example of a related problem in the news is the Virgin Atlantic firings based on what 13 people said in an online discussion on facebook. Twenty years ago, maybe they all sat around and talked about work/what they do and don’t like, etc….NOW – they had a discussion about it…that was open for others to see and the end result was not pretty – but I definitely think it will become more common. Was there an online snitch or tattle-tale? Did the company find it through google alerts? They won’t say…

    I think it is important to monitor what you put on the internet and how much a random person could find out about you. I check every once in a while, to be honest, and feel its a measure of safety…I can’t count how many times I’ve posted online, added pictures, filled out a survey, etc.

    On the same note – if HR is going to be “googling” you, why not make sure they find great things about you? With little effort you could have something you wrote pop-up, some projects you were affiliated with come up, etc…Anyone done something similar?

  3. Mark Story Says: November 1, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Amazing story, Thira and a good comment Mame. We shou;dn’t be thinking about negative information all the time either.

    Two good comments.

  4. Adriana Gallegos Says: November 2, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I believe that HR people need to draw the line between what is personal and what is professional backgroud. We all have personal lives where we take pictures with friends, give our opinion about an article or blog and maybe do an interview with a media outlet about something. In this day in age our lives are pretty much an open book with the internet, but what we do in our personal lives should not interfere with getting hired. An HR person should only worry about if you are qualified to do the job by doing a background check on the places you have worked at and not a google search on who you associate with on our time off. With all this being said you still need to be careful on what you put on the internet because unfortunetly there are many crazy people and scam artists out there as Thira pointed out.

  5. Mark Story Says: November 2, 2008 at 10:41 am


    I hear you, but from what most of my HR friends have told me, the pre judge (the root of the word “prejudice”) applicants using search and social media before bringing them in.

    I don’t like it either, but it’s the way it is right now.


  6. Lindsey Brothers Says: November 2, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    This is the WORLD WIDE WEB, not ONE PERSON WEB, so naturally one should be cautious when putting up information that could be potentially harmful.

    Some may argue that any lawful action being done outside of work should not influence one’s employer or future employer but the reality is that it does.

    A boyfriend I once dated who, at the time was a student at the Naval Academy, told me about a female officer that worked at his school that was suddenly discharged from the military. Why, you may ask? Because there were pictures of her online, sloppily drunk outside in mid-day, topless, and later, passed out on a picnic table (still topless). Now, I wonder if any organization feels that person is a good representation of what that company stands for. Even though one’s job outline may not specify it, one is always representing more than just themselves – their job, their family, their friends, and their values.

    If you met a guy/girl that you were interested in dating and you found disgusting pictures or hateful blog posts with mean comments with that person’s name attached, wouldn’t you find them a little less attractive? Well, HR feels the same way.

  7. Becky Richardson Says: November 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I,like Mame’s mother, have been sharing this message with my kids from the moment they first got on the computer. I can’t wait to show them your post. I repeatedly tell them to watch what they say or do online (and offline for that matter)–I remind them that they always leave a trail. Nothing is anonymous. On the flip side, if I were working in HR, I would absolutely look at candidates online. If I am hiring someone and paying their salary (and–accountable for that hire), I am going to do my homework. I want to know about the person I am bringing into my company. If a candidate exercises poor judgment online, unfortunately, I will be wary. I once had a boss who would immediately rule out candidates who submitted resumes and/or cover letters with the watermark on the paper reversed (or upside down). Seems like a little mistake, right? His logic: It showed a lack of attention to detail. If they didn’t catch the watermark, they were not detail-oriented–and they would not catch more complex mistakes. No matter how credentialed they were, they lost the game before they even got to bat. I know he would tell me now, little mistakes don’t help your case; and beyond that, don’t advertise them.

  8. As soon as privacy settings were available on Facebook, I was using them. We google each other, our professors, our bosses, so why is it surprising when we find out HR googles their candidates? For a company, reputation matters and their employees represent the company. While I agree with Adriana that there should be a separation of business and personal, it is a thin line that doesn’t exist when you are trying to put your best foot forward while applying for jobs. I’ve pushed for everyone I know to use their privacy settings, because I believe that if you don’t want everyone to know something about you, then keep it private. I google myself every so often, it’s a good habit for me to know what is out there about me. I’m careful about everything that I do online so that nothing that could taint my reputation online. I remember at Penn State, the campus police used Facebook to arrest the students that had rushed the field after the Ohio State-Penn State football game (as it was illegal to do so) because students had joined the group “I rushed the field at the PSU-OSU game” and had pictures of themselves on the field.

    I think it’s important that we maintain our online personas (blogs, twitter, facebook, myspace, etc) to keep the negative off and positive on. Instead of looking at the negative side of being googled, we may as well use it to our advantage (I’m not saying lie) and use it to showcase yourself.

  9. To google a job candidate is fair game, especially if it’s a high-level position where that person would be exposed to media or the public in some capacity. But looking up someone’s facebook profiles is a little strange if you ask me. Now of course, everyone should be cautious about info they post on the www, but that doesn’t mean everything on ones page is appropriate for a future employer. If something is brought to the attention of an employer that is questionable, then I think it’s fair to meld the two worlds.

    Among those who participate in social media, we know there is a line and that your page is personal. That’s why most of us probably don’t make our profiles public. Would that same employer feel comfortable with their subordinates inspecting their facebook page? I understand it’s a way to get to know a candidate, but its also quite invasive given how we use facebook today.

  10. You’d either have to be incredibly smart or incredibly stupid to put yourself out there for the whole world to see. I don’t see anythign wrong with social media sites but you must be mindful that when you click submit or send, everyone is liable to “see” you.

    You just can’t be too careful with what you put on these sites. Having a drink in your hand toasting to the good life is one thing but its another to be sloppy drunk and distateful and heavan forbid you comment on your own photo for comic relief.

    Truth be told, to get back at me for God-knows-what, my own sister forwarded a racey email I sent to someone I was dating (at the time the email was more than a year old) to my mother! I didn’t properly log out of my email account when using her laptop to check my messages and when she opened her homepage she rummaged through my sent, trash, spam and inbox folders. can you imagine how embarrased and pissed I was when my mother questioned me about it!? Imagine had that been an employer or someone in IT working on my computer…

    You have to be very careful not just outside of work but while at work as well. There is no such thing as privacy when dealing with the world wide web.

  11. Aimee Saldivar Says: November 2, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Where do I begin with this topic this week being an HR generalist myself for large corporations, including an IT company that requires clearances from most consultants employed by them. First, of all, I do agree that it is a thin line between personal and professional and should be no one’s business or impede on their decision, if you are qualified for the position you are applying for. However, I did have an issue with an employee of mine that was a college student and realized that she was not meeting her deadlines. I did a search on Myspace and realized that she was blogging during business hours and was posting updates about her online Poker winnings and losses during work hours. I know that Poker is not a quick game like Blackjack, but this did come to fruition when I had to have a performance conversation with her. She was very embarrassed about this when I did approach this with her.
    Looking up employees online before hiring them can also help you finalize your decision about the candidate’s character, if you have a gut feeling about them or if you are the fence about hiring that candidate. I agree with Mame about putting out positive information about yourself if you think that an employer may look you up. Why not promote yourself and not demote yourself before you get the job. I agree about not putting your “party” pictures up online, it’s kind of like putting your dirty laundry out there. Those pics should stay on your own personal computer not the internet. I had to have a “come to Aunt Aimee” talk with my 24 year old nephew, who recently graduated from grad school as an Aerospace engineer. He was preparing for the last couple of years to take on a job that required a clearance and with a highly noteable company. I kept telling him that he needed to take his pictures offline of his good times at college football games and tailgating activities. Apparently, those pictures were also posted on his girlfriend’s facebook page. I did tell him that if his girlfriend cared about his future, she would take them down for his sake. Even though settings are set to private, YOU NEVER KNOW. There are many ways to bypass that. Low and behold, he did find out from the grapevine that the company does online checks on their potential candidates before extending an offer to them.
    Ironically enough, as I was blogging tonight, a newspiece on the 11PM news on ABC, they were talking about the new blog that demeans student characters on campus called This website is new to me but it basically gives the 411 on students attending certain colleges/universities across the nation. They actually focused on Georgetown and the guy that founded the website. It gives stats on students regarding how many people they have slept around with, who is the biggest *&tch on campus to who has what STD or has a drug issue. WOW! This is really bad! Our university is working on eliminating student access to this website to prevent further issues. I don’t blame them. What is this high school?
    Anyhow, I think that if you apply for a job, you should be prepared for anything to come out, epecially if you have to get a background check. It is pretty standard now in any industry now a days.

  12. I would joke around and call these social media sites “stalkernets” because many people log on to see what other people are doing. Some people post their entire lives on it and some are more private about it. What I feel started as a way to network,has been and still is being utilized for a variety of purposes or intent; good or bad as Thira stated.

    I noticed that many, specially the younger generations use it as “online-diary” if you will and do not think about negetive outcome. These sites have raised a lot of issues awareness for all specially parents.

    I too have googled myself many times to see how many other people have my name and most importantly, what information is out there about me.
    I didn’t hear about HR usage of social media until about a year ago and how popular it has become. I agree with Adriana that “what we do in our personal lives should not intefere with us getting hired” but I also have to agree with Joe that what you put out there is fair game. I also like Mamies positve outlook on these sites by putting your best foot forward and using it as a tool “to showcase yourself”.

    Mia also raises a very good point. It is not only through social media that we are being watched or investigated on what we do but also at work. Many firms or larger comapanies have a system to see on what websites you log into;furthermore, disallowing websites once can log into. I know that government has cut access to popular social media networks like facebook, myspace as well as chats.

    I wonder, how HR thinks about when someone makes their profile private, do they see it as the person trying to hide something, or do they respect the persons decission?

  13. MarketingVox did a survey of how many employers use social networking to research job candidates. They said that it was only 22% of employers use social networking sites for research, which I thought was a low number. It is up 11% since 2006 and I believe that number will continue to grow. The statistics in the study are pretty informative.

    While I agree with a lot of the comments on what should be personal versus what should be professional, in this day and age, if you are putting your ideas in blog or tagged in a picture, you better believe it is fair game for anyone to see. I like to keep my facebook for my personal relationships and LinkedIn for more of a professional tool. That being said, if I was in the market for a new job right now and going on interviews I would definitely clean up my facebook page.

    Another option that I am toying with is creating a facebook page that is more professional and not as personal. Just having two seperate pages. I’m not sure if that would actually help because I am realistic and know people would find both of them either way, but if you keep the personal one with pretty strict privacy settings, it might actually work. Does anyone else have two different facebook pages? One dedicated to professional and one for personal?

    As I said, I think anything you put on the internet is fair game for employers. I would 100% do research on social media sites on people I would be looking to hire. If you are going to do all the research and prepping for an interview to market yourself as why you would be a good candidate for a job, why would you allow unprofessional pictures and negative blogs to hinder your chances?

  14. Anca Bilegan Says: November 3, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    The way we use the social media doesn’t affect only how potential employers see us but also how present employers may react at what we put out there. For a period of 2 years I have been working as Au-Pair and during this time I learned how many girls from the cluster had been sent back home because of their online behavior such as posting inappropriate pictures on their MySpace account.While I agree with Adriana that there should be a difference between what is personal and what is professional background I believe that a person as a whole is defined by both backgrounds and the HR people who google the candidates are trying to get a picture of the person as a whole. No company wants to associate its name with a person that has reputational stains, be they professional or personal. Mame also had a good point: as long as we know that our online behavior will be checked by employers, why not use this on our behalf and make public the kind of information that makes our case?

  15. Heather Lovett Says: November 4, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I have to admit I also googled myself after reading this blog. I have been pretty cautious of how I present myself on these sites for this exact reason. I wouldn’t want a potential employeer, instructor, etc. thinking I was a skank for a picture I took or comment I made. Unfortunately, not all of the girls with my names have taken this precaution. How extensive are these searches that HR conducts? How much weight do you think a comment, preference or picture has on their selections? I already have a tough time settling my nerves in interviews I don’t need social networking sites to take me out before I get in the door.

  16. Shilpika Das Says: November 4, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Mark, thank you for your post. I have been meaning to revisit my online resume for a while now and this is just the push I needed.

    I am not surprised that HR ‘googles’ applicants. They do it for the very reason each of us ‘googles’ a potential employer, professor or roommate. And maybe this is unusual, but being “invisible” on Google is more worrisome to me than finding unflattering results. Having an online presence is critical.

    Like web strategist Jeremiah Owyang puts it, “Today’s resume is your Google search results.” Building an online footprint is no longer a luxury but a requirement. What was once thought of as ‘ego-surfing’ is now considered a smart idea for anyone wanting to protect their personal brand.

    Since HR screening through Google is inevitable, I’d rather control what comes up in the searches by creating the content – and use it to my advantage. If used correctly, I think it can prove to be an effective way of showing potential employers who you are and what you’ve done.

    I’m no subject-matter expert but here are a few ways in which I hope to “rewrite” my “google resume”

    • Use my personal blog as an ongoing resume, a digital portfolio. I have heard social media experts suggest that blogs are a good way to give potential employers a snapshot of your personality and demonstrate your communication skills and writing ability.

    • Revisit my LinkedIn profile. Google loves it and for most people, if they have a LinkedIn profile, it will show up as the first result. Customizing your LinkedIn URL makes a big difference. Social media guru Chris Brogan has some great tips on making LinkedIn work for you.
    Here’s an interesting slideshow, too.

    • Manage my privacy settings within each social network I use.

    • Set up Google Alerts so that I am notified whenever something about me is published online. If someone is having a conversation about me, I want to know.

    • Engage actively (with well thought-out comments) in online discussions relevant to my profession and skills.

    These are a few things I hope will make a difference to my online reputation. I would love to hear more thoughts and suggestions…

  17. I remember going to a resume work shop the other day and one thing they mentioned in the end is, don’t forget to google yourself once in a while to check what your current “online record” is. They also reminded us to be aware of every “trace” we leave in the online world.

    The IT technology took away a lot of communication barriers and limits while bringing the world a lot closer. That means an increase in transparency and a decrease in privacy. I used to find blogging fascination because I can talk whatever I want in private and publish to only the audience (like my close friends) I intend to inform. I don’t blog because I want to create some publicity from a relatively easier platform. And I also find people willing to spill out deeper thoughts in the online world. Therefore, you see more interesting and bolder statement which is another catchy feature I find.

    The fun stops when certain censorship thrive. I remember one day my mom madly came to me “ordering” me to delete my post complaining about her after arguing with her the other day. I was very embarrassed and shocked as well. Oh yes I should had reminded myself that my mom is in the IT field. And she’s very up-to-date to all these new technology tools. So.. there goes away an “outlet” for me to shout out.

    When Mark introduced those blog tracking tools to us last week, I was really amazed how we’re being watched in the blogsphere. I guess when the employers google you, they’re interested in seeing who you really are. But with such censorship and thus bloggers might get more reserved, I wonder if people would still really be who they are in the online world.

  18. Mike Rupert Says: November 4, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Shilpika Das,

    Those are excellent points. I think an HR professional who sees a few party shots and lots of friends, could also help. Especially in our field. I always remember that like PR campaigns, we need to stay authentic. I would be nervous about someone who has few friends, never says anything interesting, never acts human. You would be “found out ” quickly for faking. I think a more important issue is that EEO laws prevent people from asking certain questions about race, sexual orientation, family status, etc. Now they can find out immediately and anonymously. So the bigots and homophobic people of the world can filter. If your real paranoid, you would literally have to disappear off the face of the earth to avoid these issues.

    My recommendation would be to look them up. Find them out. That levels the playing field.

  19. Monica Hamrick Says: November 11, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Mark, thanks for this post. It is always good to be reminded of how much of what we do is public. Not only is what we put online public, but also what our friends and colleagues and organizations of which we are members put online. I think that “intersection” that you talk about drives our online content as much as what we put there ourselves.

    I think the response to that, though, is not to be fearful, but to be authentic. People who google you want to get to know you, so why not monitor your online content to make sure it gives an accurate, dynamic picture of who you are?

    One potential problem is when you have a common name. When you have the same name as someone else, how do people know which pages are about you and which are about someone else?

  20. Mark Story Says: November 11, 2008 at 5:37 am


    Welcome to our little corner of cyberspace. You bring up an EXCELLENT point and one which I have not even considered.

    Thanks for reading and for your excellent contribution.

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