Cover your social media tracks

July 06, 2011

Vanessa Lu–social-media-leaves-trail-for-bosses-but-there-are-ways-to-cover-your-tracks

Images from the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver proved people could get quickly fired, but questionable posts and tweets can stop people getting hired in the first place.

And because employers are increasingly doing social media checks, people are turning to online strategies to clean up their profiles.

Brian Lambie, a principal with Redbrick Communications in Mississauga, spent six months trying to hire staff at his small public relations firm and was stunned by the lack of judgment he found applicants displayed.

He first weeded out any candidates who submitted a resume with typos – surprisingly, 90 per cent had mistakes. Then he did searches on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

He was surprised by how many people were “petty, foolish and nasty.”

“I’m not opposed to having fun, but they should have a good sense of what to advertise,” he said. “What you see on social media offers a window into what you are bringing into your office’s lunchroom. If a person is ‘out of line’ while online, you run the risk of adding that to the culture of your workplace.

A 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research of employment recruiters in the United States found 72 per cent have rejected candidates based on their online reputations on social networking sites.

Top reasons employers cited for not hiring a candidate, according to a CareerBuilder survey, include provocative or improper photos, posts about drinking or drug use, badmouthing previous employers, co-workers or clients, bad grammar or communications skills, discriminatory comments and lying about qualifications.

Professional companies have sprouted up to clean up one’s background, including, formerly known as ReputationDefender.

Michael Fertik, who founded the California company in 2006, said for a fee, his company will help push controversial links down during a Google search or tell you how much personal information you have exposed online.

It alerts users when information appears online about them and offers a Facebook app called that encrypts content, allowing users to determine when a post or photo expires.

Fertik said average users are in their 20s, who want to get rid of something they posted that they’re not proud of. Parents occasionally sign up.

“This is a topic that is not going away,” Fertik said. “We’ve heard of anecdotally stories about employers asking candidates to open up their social networking pages during an interview.”

Sidneyeve Matrix, a media studies professor at Queen’s University, suggests people take control to ensure when a potential employer searches, accurate, relevant information is there.

That can mean raising the privacy settings on Facebook pages or creating your own website to highlight your resume and skills. Or tweet often to showcase you are a thought leader in your field.

Matrix said people can showcase their personality and interests online.

“You showing me your book list or you can ran in a marathon are great things,” said Matrix, adding she would be concerned if a candidate came up as a blank slate with no details.

Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian has a simple message – think before you click.

“The reality is that the majority of employers are looking online when they hire people, when they promote people,” she said. “This is user-generated data. You’re putting it out yourself.

“You have to be so cautious with the information you put out,” Cavoukian said. “People still don’t get it.”

Most experts say it would be difficult for candidates to prove they lost out on a job because of a post.

“There’s nothing illegal with a company going online and checking into candidates,” said Daniel Lublin, a workplace lawyer at Whitten & Lublin LLP. “What they can’t do is they can’t make hiring decisions based on anything that would be considered discriminatory.”

That is clearly stated in the Ontario Human Rights Code, or under the Federal Human Rights Act for federally regulated companies, such as sex, age, race or religion.

However, Lublin said it is very unusual to get “smoking gun” evidence. “It’s really difficult to prove your case in the absence of hard evidence,” he said. “People need to understand that circumstantial evidence or oral evidence isn’t good evidence.”

How to spruce up your online self

Get your Google ID, so you can control the first clicks on your name, including a profile page or links to your website. If your name is common, add your middle name.

Buy your vanity domain name, which costs about $10 to $15 a year in Canada. Put your resume on there or your LinkedIn profile.

Make sure your privacy settings are high on Facebook, including getting notifications when you are tagged by another user, so you can make a decision if you want a photo from an office Christmas party posted.

Note that Twitter’s tweets are licensed to Google, so they come up on Google search. Focus on your niche, tweet away and hiring manager will see you are plugged into the industry.

Source: Sidneyeve Matrix, Queen’s University

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