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Employers Considering Applicants’ Online Reputation

If you’re interviewing for jobs, the folks doing the hiring will probably do a Google search on your name — at a minimum. This isn’t news; we’ve certainly written about it before. But it may be surprising to learn that, according to a recent survey of 1100 hiring managers, 70% of U.S. companies say they have disqualified candidates based on what they find online when they do those searches. That same survey found that only 7% of U.S. consumers think their online footprint affects their job search.

The survey, commissioned by Microsoft and released earlier this year, included interviews with recruiters, hiring managers, human resources professionals, and consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. There were some notable differences in responses across the countries; for example, 41% of hiring managers in the U.K., 16% in Germany, and 14% in France said they’ve disqualified candidates base on what they’ve found out about the candidate online.

At the same time, 13% and 10% of consumers (who aren’t well defined in the report, other than the fact that they use the Internet and half of them were under age 30) in Germany and France, respectively think that online information about them would affect their job search. This figure is 9% for U.K. consumers.

Three-quarters of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed say their companies formally require that hiring personnel research each applicant online. Recruiters reported that they look at social networking sites, photo and video sharing sites, professional and business networking sites, personal web sites, blogs, news sharing sites, online forums, virtual world sites, and online gaming sites, among others, though the percentage of recruiters who search each of these categories varies.

So why would a company reject a candidate based on what they find online? In descending order, the answers given were as follows:

  • concerns about the candidate’s lifestyle
  • inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate
  • unsuitable photos, videos, and information
  • inappropriate comments or text written by friends or relatives
  • comments criticizing previous employers, co-workers, or clients
  • inappropriate comments or text written by colleagues or work acquaintances
  • membership in certain groups and networks
  • discovery that information given by the candidate was false
  • poor communication skills displayed online
  • concern about the candidate’s financial background.

Eight in 10 consumers say they make some effort to keep personal and professional online identities separate. What do they do? Here are some of the responses:

  • Regularly search for information about themselves online
  • Use alerts to notify them when their name is mentioned online
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites
  • Restrict access to personal Web site
  • Use multiple online profiles

The take-home message (though not one that’s emphasized in the survey report) is that you need to pay attention to what people can find out about you online, particularly if you’re doing a job search. Be mindful of what a simple search of your name and your e-mail address will bring up. You can’t really do anything about data on people with the same name as you, but if there is potentially harmful or untrue information about the real you, try to get rid of it. And, consider carefully those college photos that anyone can search and find. Our favorite in-house story on that last category: Our editor did a Google search on a source quoted in an article on professionalism and found that the source’s Facebook profile photo showed him sitting on a toilet, beer in hand. Fortunately for him, he already had a job.

The full survey report (PDF) and a slide presentation on it are available on the Microsoft Web site.