What Employers Can Find Out About You Online

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When you're going on interviews for a new job and potential employers have your resume, it's becoming very common for companies to perform internet searches on your name as part of their background check. Employers want to see what else they can turn up about you outside of your carefully-curated resume, cover letter, and well-rehearsed answers to their interview questions.

These days, what you probably consider personal and (somewhat) private information can easily be found online by potential employers. In fact, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process—up from 11 percent in 2006. Fifty-four percent have decided not to hire an applicant, based on something they found in one or more of their online profiles.

Hiding or deleting your profiles isn’t necessarily the answer: In the CareerBuilder survey, 57 percent of respondents said that they were less likely to interview a candidate that they couldn’t find online.

Even if you go social-media-free, Google might give you away—69 percent of employers use search engines to perform more broad searches on applicants instead of just performing direct searches on social media sites.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid leaving a digital trail in this day and age, and you don’t necessarily want to go completely incognito either. If used in the right way, though, social media can help you develop your personal brand, connect with influencers in your industry, and bolster your own reputation with hiring managers.

You need to know how to curate your online presence so that employers see only what you want them to see—and not embarrassing photos from spring break or deal-breaking comments on political posts.

How Employers Conduct Background Checks

There are many ways for employers to find out more about you and your background. While they might not check your credit report until you're well into the hiring process, they could start checking elsewhere before even setting up an interview by typing your full name into Google, Bing, and other internet search engines to see what pops up.

Savvy employers will try to search in various ways, hoping to pick up any data they can from messaging platforms like Slack and Google Hangouts, blogs, and the content and photos you post on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It's quite easy for employers to find information you would have preferred to keep private.

Employers May Find Good Information

Once you know that employers will search for you online, you can use that to your advantage. It might actually become your secret weapon and set you apart from the competition, especially if you have published articles online under your name, for example, that show you're an expert in your profession. You can post information such as the following:

  • Industry news that you share on LinkedIn or Twitter
  • An online portfolio of your work
  • Positive comments or references on sites like LinkedIn to show your positive, upbeat personality
  • Photos on your own, personal website of you volunteering for groups that are meaningful to you (and may even coincide with your hopeful employer's mission)
  • Useful and relevant How-To videos that you've created

According to a CareerBuilder study, when employers do their online searches, they often find information that helps them draw positive conclusions about candidates, such as a professional image, well-rounded personality, good communication skills, creativity, an impressive background, and solid information on their references.

The Dark Side: Negative Information

Removing certain types of content from your own social media pages may seem like enough, but people often forget about photos or content posted by other people that happen to contain their name as a tag. For example, if you went to a wild concert with a group and a friend posts photos and tags you, that may come up in a browser search, even if you never posted it on your own social media page. Employers may search and find out other information such as:

  • Forum postings, comments or rants that reveal political or other thoughts that an employer might find offensive
  • Compromising pictures from your college days
  • Publicly-available documents from a civil lawsuit
  • Your membership in clubs or organizations that are inconsistent with the company's mission

How to Polish Your Online Presence

It's important to manage your online presence because potential employers can use the information they find online to filter you out of their hiring pool. This could happen before you even get a chance to interview and show them how competent and qualified you are for the job.

Make a periodic check to find all of the information you have (or someone else has about you) online, so you can make sure you don't get any unpleasant surprises during the hiring process. Here's a list of places to start checking:

  • Email / Instant Message: Your email address and messaging screen name(s) should be professional. Your email messages should include a signature that includes your phone number, so it's easy for employers to contact you. One way to avoid mixing business with pleasure is to have a dedicated email address and screen name that you use just for job searching.
  • Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other browsers: Have you Googled yourself to see what information people can find about you on the Internet? Make sure that what you find is appropriate for a potential employer to read. You might be surprised at what's there!
  • Blogs: If you have a blog, is there anything that you wouldn't want an employer or a colleague to read? Whether you write about your interviews, your current job, or your personal life, don't forget to review all your online information when job searching, because any potential employer could find it. If you have friends who write about you, check to make sure what they are writing is appropriate.
  • Social Networking Sites: Do you have an account on a social networking site, like Twitter or Facebook? Believe it or not, employers do check these sites. Take a look at your profile, your pictures, and who is linked from your site and vice versa. Is there anything you wouldn't want a potential employer to see? If you're concerned, make your profile private and be careful what you put on the front page. Anyone may be able to see the information on that page, even if your profile is private.
  • Forums or bulletin board post: If you've posted comments or information about yourself or your personal opinions or preferences, be aware that these could also come up in a browser search.

Take the following steps as well so that, even if you can't change the information contained in these reports, you can at least have an explanation ready if questioned about them in an interview.

  • Get familiar with the information on your credit report, which you can get once a year at no charge from FreeCreditReport.com.
  • Review your driving record by contacting your state's Department of Motor Vehicles and ordering your DMV report.
  • If you have had any civil lawsuits, find out what information an employer could have access to by contacting the courthouse that handled your case.

Online Job Search Privacy

It's important to protect your privacy when job searching online. Here's information on how to keep your personal information confidential and how to protect your privacy. Social media sites often have settings that you can tweak to share only the information you want to make public.

Even though it's nice to share some details of your personal life online, employers want to find out as much information about candidates for employment as they can.

There are ethical and possibly legal issues regarding how deeply employers should look for information, but at least for now, there's nothing stopping them from getting as much dirt on you as they can. So, be careful what you share online—you're not just sharing it with your friends, you're sharing it with the world.