Footprints in the snow

Footprints in the snow (Photo credit: The Field Museum Library)

A friend of mine spoke to me last week about a terrible situation he had found himself in. Without going into detail, and to protect his identity, he was being unfairly attacked online for an issue he had been involved in and was unable to do much to put it right. He was deeply concerned about what impact this would have on his reputation – Understandably.

As an employer of more than 10 years’ experience in hiring sales people, journalists and administration staff, as well as managers and senior managers. Here’s the thing: These days prospective employers search for intelligence on a prospective employee via examination of their digital footprint.

In my case, if I am hiring someone directly, I always ‘Google’ them.

#ISRU11 - We ALL leave a digital footprint

#ISRU11 – We ALL leave a digital footprint (Photo credit: OllieBray)

I search for a LinkedIn profile as a minimum. Twitter is always a good source of insight. You might also come across a Facebook account, or even on occasion, a ‘news story’. All this is delivered by the Google search engine, which supplies all this info and more without the need for an account or having to search the actual social networks themselves.

It’s sometimes the case that the prospective employee might own other digital real estate such as a blog or Tumblr account, all good sources of information about the person you are thinking of hiring, and all readily available in the public domain. While there are ways to ‘protect’ your digital profile, I would estimate that the vast majority of people are online with no security measures to prevent such voyeurism.

Hiring people is an expensive process and mistakes are costly.

The time invested into screening candidates much less interviewing is hugely costly for today’s multi-tasking business person. Clues to a prospective employees suitability can be very important and no doubt have impact on whether a business would take that person on.

The sort of information that can be gleaned from even a cursory examination of social media for instance are the sorts of activities a person might enjoy in their down times, the circle of friends they enjoy and even the sorts of organisations and brands they might have allegiance too.

Any or all of which might help a business decide whether to employ someone or not.

There are usually multiple candidates for most positions, and often with similar qualifications and experience. I have no doubt that ‘intelligence’ gathered in this way would have an impact on an employer’s view of the prospective employees suitability for the position in question. Decisions in situations where there is little else to differentiate would no doubt be resolved in this way.

Even in cases where the information dug up is not true, or when a party maybe the victim of trolls or bullying which is precisely the case with my friend. 

If I were to find behaviour or views or opinions that the person in question might have expressed to be contrary to the company’s or potentially damaging to the company, then at the very least I would feel duty bound to explore these issues with the candidate. In extreme cases, maybe where their appears to be evidence of a conviction or other serious matter, it’s likely that the intelligence gained would put an end to the candidates chances.

And it’s likely that the candidate wouldn’t even get the chance to argue the issue. Its more likely they would just get the standard ‘no thanks’ letter. 

It’s especially important that children and students and other young people are made aware that this goes on in today’s job market, and even has potential for further more critical impact on their lives. It’s not necessarily about the carefully crafted blog that someone might have put together to show case their creativity. Rather it’s the unguarded banter between good friends, taken out of context, that could put you at risk.

Digital Footprint Wisdom

Digital Footprint Wisdom (Photo credit: ransomtech)

A salutary lesson for anyone looking for a job in today’s market.

Perhaps more worrying, and as was the case for my friend, is the prospect of a concerted campaign mounted by a malicious third-party, for whatever reason, that results in a ‘smearing’ of a person’s otherwise good name. We have all heard of terrible stories of ‘cyber bullying’ as its sometimes called, where completely fictitious claims and accusations are leveled at the weakest among us. Those that aren’t able to defend themselves as is usually the case with these odious ‘trolls’.

At best it has resulted in heart-break and terrible privations for the families involved, at worst, the most awful of tragedies.

I believe that the digital footprint, and particularly its misappropriation, is one of the most serious of issues facing our children, young people and those people looking for work in today’s market place. There are measures that can be taken to protect your security. It’s imperative you find out what they are and implement them.

It is also possible to run programmes that trawl the online archives for mentions of you online that can then be ‘cleaned up’ allowing for some modicum of control.

However, and desperately worryingly, these measures are not well-known. I believe they, as well as other measures should be taught to our children as part of their work experience and learning at school at the very least.

It’s a desperately sad situation and I hope it never happens to you. If you know someone it happens to they should be supported as much as you are able.

What do you think? Is this as big an issue as I think? Am I overstating it? Do employers today still go on the personal meeting and gut feel of yesteryear?

Do you know of any of the ‘apps’ or programmes I’ve mentioned that are worth investigating?

Let me know in the comments.

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