It’s widely known that many employers Google prospective employees in addition to the standard criminal background and credit checks. Most usually check out your social networking pages and any obvious name-mentions in the press. But what may not be as widely known is that some employers are going further. Whether they’re doing it themselves or hiring a third party to search you out, many employers are looking at everything they can find about you online, even things that go back many years.
Even if you’ve scrubbed your social networking profiles clean, there are things that can be used against you. What does this mean? It means that nothing you do online is sacred and that things you may not even suspect can cause you trouble can come back to bite you. Here are some examples.
Your “For Sale” and “Wanted to Buy” posts: A woman was denied a job because she advertised that she wanted to buy some Oxycontin on Craigslist. Other people have been tripped up because they were trying to arrange sexual encounters on sites such as Craigslist. Some people post pleas for financial/food assistance which paints a picture of a desperate person who might not be trustworthy. Posts selling items that are similar to what the employer sells may lead the employer to wonder if you’ll be stealing and reselling their products. Before you post any kind of want ad online, stop and think how it might look to a prospective employer.
Involvement in religious organizations: You may not want your employer to know that you’re a member of a certain religion or religious organization. But even if you don’t disclose it, your church or religious group may do it for you. Your name may be listed on a membership roster, in a newsletter, on sign up sheet for an activity, or on a donor’s list that gets posted online on an unsecured website. It might not be a problem if you’re just a regular Baptist or Catholic, but if you’re part of a fundamentalist group or something that’s viewed as threatening or radical, it could mean trouble.
Political affiliations: As with religious affiliation listed above, it’s not hard to find out about your political leanings. If you’ve given money to an organization or worked on their behalf, your name may be out there somewhere in a seemingly innocuous newsletter or donor list. This is particularly the case with local politics or fringe organizations. These often aren’t as careful about what is posted online as their major counterparts, although even the major groups can slip up. While you might not care if someone knows if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, things can get dicey if your affiliations lean toward the radical or extreme.
Health problems: Doctors, insurance companies and hospitals are supposed to take great care to secure their networks, but stuff sometimes leaks out. A few years ago a local hospital was hacked and personal information of patients was posted online. Although much of it was removed, traces can still be found by those dedicated to the search. The bigger problems come when you post on health-related forums (or post about your condition anywhere online) under your own name. If you’re posting about your cancer struggle under your own name, it’s not hard for an employer to find that information. They may not hire you because they wonder how your health struggles will affect your ability to work and how much you my end up costing them.
Socio-economic status: It’s not difficult to put together a picture of an applicant’s socio-economic status based on online information. A street address can be mapped so an employer can see what kind of neighborhood you live in. Photos of your home, vacations, cars, or clothing add to the picture. An employer might want to use this information to determine if you’ll “fit in” at their organization or if you aren’t their sort of person. Is it stereotypical and wrong? Yes, but if someone wants to make a snap judgement about you, this is one way to do it.
Sexual orientation: If you post under your own name on gay and lesbian forums, it’s not hard to discover that. If you’re listed in any gay or lesbian newsletters, organization membership lists, or activity sign ups that are posted online you can be found. Pictures of you at gay or lesbian events can reveal your preferences.The same goes for any other orientation. If you don’t want people to know your sexual orientation, be very careful about what is posted online. It shouldn’t matter, but to some employers it just might.
Other questionable memberships: Your membership in an environmental group, hunting club, gun group, activist organization, or professional groups that are known for causing trouble can cause you problems. Even if you’re not personally involved in trouble making or radical activism, you may be thought, “guilty by association.” As with the other items on this list, you can be found if any organization carelessly posts your name online.
So what can you do? It’s almost impossible to completely prevent your name from getting out there, but here are some ideas for reducing the risk.
Think twice about everything you do: It’s sad that in this day and age you have to consider the professional ramifications of everything you do in your private life, but it is what it is. Don’t join any groups that may cause you problems. Don’t get involved in causes that could be perceived as radical or threatening. If you do, you’d better
make sure that it’s worth it to you because it is an employer may discover your memberships and activities use them against you.
Do an in depth search for yourself: When you’re looking for a job, you need to see what employers are seeing. So Google yourself and spend some time on it. Follow the links deeper into the results. Don’t just look and say, “Oh, yeah, there’s my Facebook profile and I know it’s clean.” Dig deeper, look at the cache files and look at all the results. You can’t know what you’re dealing with if you don’t look.
Bring up any problems yourself: If you have things online that you think might cause problems, address them yourself during the interview. You might mention that you used to be a member of XYZ fundamentalist organization, but that you left five years ago. If someone with your same name is doing things that are questionable, mention that you know of another person who has your same name and that those are not your affiliations. It’s better to address things upfront than to let the employer form their own conclusions. They might just cut you without asking for explanations, so give the explanation in the beginning.
Do everything you can to keep yourself offline: Don’t use your real name or a variant when posting on public sties and forums. If you’re given the chance to opt out of having your information posted online, do it. Talk to your churches, political groups and other organizations about not posting anything about you publicly. If you find something posted and you want it removed, approach the organization and ask them to take it down (The information will still be in the cache files, but it will at least be harder to find).
Buy your name dot com: If your name dot com is still available to purchase, buy it. The cost for domain names is now less than $10 a year. Your name is your identity and do you really want someone else that happens to have the same name in control of what others may assume is you?
Is any of this legal? Some of it is and some of it isn’t. It’s illegal, for example, to discriminate against someone based on their religious affiliation. But unless the employer admits that your religious affiliation is the reason you didn’t get the job, who’s ever going to know? You can be denied a job for any reason and never know why. Discrimination is illegal but only if you can prove it which is difficult, time consuming, and expensive to do.
In days gone by an employer could only find out what you wanted them to know, unless you’d sone something big that would turn up in a standard background check. If you didn’t wish to disclose your religion, no one would find out. But now, through no fault of your own, your personal information may be readily available to be used against you.
The bottom line is that very little about you is private any more. Does this mean that you should refuse to use the Internet? No, because you can’t do that in most cases. But it does mean that you need to be vigilant about using your own name when you post anything online. You also need to let the organizations you belong to know that you want to opt out of any online listings that they may use. No one else is going to protect your privacy. It’s up to you to do that so that you don’t end up missing out on a job because of something posted online.