SEMA News - October 2010
In a Tough Job Market, Online Reputation Management Is a Must
By Joe Dysart
Pew Internet’s report found that it’s only a matter of time before a stranger can take your picture, match it to your name via an online database and post the resulting information anywhere online.
While anecdotes abound about professionals who have lost job opportunities over something they’ve posted online, new research reveals that we’re all much more at risk than previously known. Specifically, a survey of 1,100-plus human resources (HR) professionals by Cross-Tab found that 70% of recruiters have rejected a candidate for employment simply based on text, photos or videos they discovered about that person online. “An applicant’s online reputation can be very important in the hiring process,” said Monique A. Honaman, CEO of ISHRGroup, a human resources firm.
“Essentially, this person will be representing your business, your brand. It behooves a company to be sure that the individual represents the company in the manner in which it wants to be known.”
Indeed, many of the HR professionals participating in Cross-Tab’s “Online Reputation in a Connected World” study said that web screening of candidates has become a formal requirement in the hiring process. And an overwhelming majority believe that such screening and monitoring will weigh even more heavily in hiring decisions during the next five years.
Most HR pros surveyed also said that they considered no online venue exempt from investigation. In addition to typical social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace, these execs thought nothing of checking out online gaming sites and virtual worlds as well as retail, auction and classified sites, such as Amazon, eBay and Craigslist before offering a position.
All told, an overwhelming majority of HR recruiters (84%) believe that poking into people’s personal lives online is perfectly acceptable. And even more (89%) believe that investigating professional credentials online should be the norm. Recruiters who were most comfortable with online screening also freely admitted that they are able to unearth much more information about a person online than they’re able to—or even permitted to—via traditional job interviews and background checks.
Conventional job interviews, for example, generally do not probe into a candidate’s religious, political or other affiliations, nor have such interviews typically delved into a job applicant’s financial situation, medical health and the like. But online, much of this information is freely available if you know where to look, and many recruiters are doing just that. The result is that some job applicants are rejected based on their membership in certain groups online. Others are falling victim to comments made about them by friends, family or colleagues.
For HR pros, perhaps the greatest power in online screening is anonymity. Essentially, both in-house and third-party staffers can pretty much stop anywhere they’d like on the web, take a look around and be gone without anyone being the wiser. A recruiter, for example, may come across a photo of you at a political rally that’s been tagged with your name and consider that political affiliation as a factor when hiring you—whether or not you happened to be attending that rally as an ardent supporter or just an interested observer. Currently, such photos are generally created and shared between friends on the social networks. But new online technology, such as the free, web-based Polar Rose , now makes it possible to automatically match images of people with the names of those people.
The upshot is that it may become very easy in the not-too-distant future for a complete stranger to take a picture of you anywhere, in any number of compromising or otherwise private situations, and instantly post that image to the web—right along with your name and other identifying information.
“Today, facial-recognition technology is standard in many new digital cameras, and applications such as Polar Rose are soon going to be fused with the cameras and Internet connections on users’ phones,” said Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at Pew Internet, a nonprofit research group. “Google Goggles, a service that lets you use pictures taken with your mobile device to search the web, doesn’t offer facial recognition for now, but the underlying capability is there.”
ISHRGroup’s Monique A. Honaman said that online web screening of job applicants is considered common practice these days.
Clearly, there are several obvious gaffes to scrub from the web before you go job hunting, Honaman said, including inappropriate photos, excessive alcohol/partying, poor language and disparaging comments about current or prior employers, managers or peers. These all indicate a lack of judgment that many potential employers may want to avoid.
You’ll also want to disassociate yourself from any risqué e-mail addresses, such as “Hotmama@gmail.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org.” “You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen,” Honaman said.
You’ll also want to be vigilant about monitoring the privacy settings on all the social networking sites where you have memberships. Facebook for example, unleashed a tsunami of member anger a few months back when it decided to make more of members’ private information public—without first consulting the members on that move. The mega-social networking site has since mostly rolled back that privacy breach, but the move clearly demonstrates that the information you think is safely stored behind digital walls online could become public at any time on the whim of a CEO wunderkind who hasn’t seen age 30 yet.
“In today’s world of non-stop tweets, incessant consumer reviews and ‘everyone has an opinion’ Facebook postings, monitoring your online reputation is a daunting task,” said Sandra Crawford Williamson, chief marketing officer at SuperMedia, an ad agency.
Meanwhile, Pew Internet also reports that at least some web socializers are hip to the online prying that’s going on and have responded by being more conservative with the privacy settings on the sites where they gather. A full 71% of social networkers aged 18–29 have tightened up on their privacy settings online, the research group found. And another 55% of users aged 50–64 have done the same, according to the company’s survey on social networking released this past May entitled “Reputation Management and Social Media”.
Many of these same users have also taken the time to delete unwanted comments that others have made on their web profiles and have removed their names from photos of themselves that family, friends and colleagues have posted online. In addition to making the above repairs, you may want to tweak your own online reputation with these monitoring tools:
Google Alerts: This is one of the easiest ways to secure a general idea about what’s being said about you on the web in major online communities, mailing lists and blogs—all places where those looking to shape public opinion tend to congregate.
Twitter Monitoring: You’ll also want to sign up for an account on Twitter, the micro-blogging service, which you can use to monitor the posts there. Signing up for an account will also prevent someone else from grabbing your name and masquerading as you on the service.
Technorati: Posts on web blogs can be tracked with the free blogwatch service Technorati, which has been around since the blog phenomena went large. It does a great job of monitoring what’s being said and keeping track of newly created blogs.
Discussion Board Monitoring: Boardtracker.com is a free service that monitors buzz on the countless discussion boards on the web.
Other Tools: Other free reputation-management tools to check out include BlogPulse, which also tracks blog posts; Keotag, which tracks keywords, including names, that are being used as tags on the web; SeekingAlpha, which tracks the postings of conference call transcripts on websites; Google Trends, which tracks the most popular keyword searches on the web; and Compete, which tracks the top website referrals for any keyword search.
Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, New York.