Monday, March 29, 2010

Why I Don't Mind Potential Employers Scanning My Online Profiles

When I sit back and think, I realize that I first began working in 1985. I took a job as a cashier at a local family-style restaurant. It was pure nepotism because my aunt knew the owners, but that also meant I had to be an exemplary employee or the family would hear about it and that would not bode well for me. I was always on time, diligent, and polite to customers.

Back then, we were a fairly low tech society compared to now. For example, I had no cell phone with text messaging to distract myself with while I stood idle at the register between rushes of people. Instead, I'd reconcile my register or scrub down the counter.

I also had no camera in my cell phone with which to photograph myself at work, nor did I have an online profile to which I could post that photo and some pithy commentary about how many times I'd had to dodge the pervy manager's grabby hands.

It was more than a decade past that before I joined some rudimentary online sites and began building an online profile and presence. By then I'd worked my way up from plebe to manager level in my career. By then I was in charge of hiring people.

However, I still parsed paper resumes sent by snail mail, and relied exclusively on face-to-face interviews and written recommendations. It still wasn't par for the course to scan the Internet to vet a potential employee.

Now, however, more than a decade past that, it is standard procedure to Google a job applicant. Initially, I pondered whether that was any kind of an invasion of privacy, even if, by definition, posting something to the Internet conveys a total and utter lack of expectation of any kind of privacy.

I did definitely wonder whether it was any kind of discrimination to disqualify a job applicant based on something you found about that person online.

It's one thing to assume a person has a private life, political and religious views, friends, family and so forth -- but what does it mean to a potential employer to see it all on display, online?

It may be that I'm old school (or just older) but my online presence is fairly tame. A potential employer or client scanning my Facebook page will see a woman who is married with children, interested in both improving public education and staying on top of current health care for women news, dedicated to local politics and voting, focused on improving my business skills, in touch with friends, and active in some groups oriented around personal and business development. They'll see now and again my family takes vacations. I have allergies in the spring. They'll find the same on Twitter. Fairly ho hum. The same sort of stuff they'd find out about me near the coffeemaker in the breakroom or in idly chit chat during a meeting to break the ice.

In short, potential colleagues won't find out anything I mind them knowing, and frankly, if any of that makes me a bad fit for the job, I'd rather both of us know upfront. With time and experience comes wisdom, and I've learned it's so much better to be frank and honest about who you are and what your needs and job demands are instead of trying to conform to be chosen.

With honestly comes a better fit and more success and satisfaction.

It does mean I censor some elements I share online, but those are by virtue of my own personal privacy standards. It means using good judgment before I share something through social media. What's my standard of measure?

My own personal brand. Whether it's personally or professionally, I want others to view me as a thoughtful, considerate, mature, intelligent, accomplished, interesting person who cares deeply about her family and doing good in the world.

Before I post, I ask whether what I want to put up -- put out -- there adds to this idea of myself. If it does, then up it goes.

That's why I haven't hidden my profile, used a pseudonym, or otherwise attempted to hide or disguise myself. I feel proud not just of what but also of who I put out through social media.

It's been customary to counsel young people to censor what they post. Judiciousness is a good suggestion, but the new trend -- of hiding profiles and using online disguises of some sort -- is equally valid. Young people may grow up to regret some of what they put out there, but truthfully, that's part of the process. I truly regret some things from my youth, as well. I'm just grateful my youth happened before the Internet and cell phones and camera phones and recorders.

Today, that is all there and in play, and not just for the younger generations. Googling potential colleagues flows both ways: employees and employers. However, both potential employees and employers need to maintain perspective about what they find online, have an honest discourse about it, and discuss each's philosophies of boundaries. A client may not like my liberal leaning politics, but will that truly affect my job? That's a good question for an employer to ask. Perhaps it's an environment that doesn't mind topics such as politics coming in to the office, but if it is a problem, that needs to be out there.

What potential employees and employers find online can actually be a help to one another in figuring out what to ask and how to answer. It can be a better starting point than a simple resume that lists jobs and accomplishments. It provides an insight into the personality of the person. It can help each gauge more deeply how their own elements will match up against the job and workplace.

And at the end of the day, a good fit, which translates into finding someone likable, ends up being a bigger factor to success than ability to do a good job. (See: The Likeability Factor.)


outsidevoice said...

While I didn't get 'dooced' for my blog, a potential employer did find mine and deny me the position - but not before saying my children were beautiful and how much she enjoyed reading about them. But since I curse on my blog and am a bit irreverant at times that seemed to be a problem for the recruiter.

It bothered me at first, but it doesn't now. The voice on my blog is the same one I have in an office as many current/ex-colleagues can attest to. Like you, non of that stops me from doing a fantastic job.

It just stopped me from getting one once.

Maria said...

Great post-I completely agree! Although I do have some pictures on FB of me out and about drinking some beers with friends, I do wonder how employers checking me out will react to that however I am with you when you say "if any of that makes me a bad fit for the job, I'd rather both of us know upfront" - frankly I can't see myself working with people that are that uptight that they don't want to hire me because I'm spending my casual time having a beer with friends.


Julie Pippert said...

Outsidevoice, loved your story, so glad you shared it! It took many years and many mistakes for me to figure out that conforming to expectation to land the job had a low rate of happiness at work for me. The job I liked best of all was the one I took because I wanted to work in that job in that industry in that company for that boss AND I was totally honest about who I am and how I work.

Conventional wisdom at that time was to answer interview questions in certain ways and I spent so much time honing my perfect interviewing skills to make them want! me! that I too often neglected who I was and what I wanted! And as a woman, I had the "like me! like me!" societal pressure to overcome, too.

So I landed in some jobs I am sure I should not have. I did well but was not happy and felt at odds with the culture.

I've learned to be more honest and it's so much better.

You're so right -- we do a fantastic job especially when we are ourselves.

Maria, I so agree. Much of corporate culture revolves around the happy hour anyway lol.

I suspect that most of what people put up is fairly innocuous, and while it might reveal personal elements of ourselves, like I said, I think that can be a good thing!

jeanie said...

I rarely use my real name online - its something I started BEFORE online activity - not so people wouldn't recognise me, but so people wouldn't confuse me with another with the same name.

When I began doing performance poetry, another with the same name (although she did marry it and had her first name spelled wrong) had just had a high profile book published.

When I first went online, it was for a single mothers forum and I really wanted freedom to speak about things going on in my life without them getting back to my ex.

Although many years have passed, the only "me with my real name" profile online is that on Facebook - and therefore anyone Googling me would find an author who had a few bestsellers in the late 80s/early 90s - and if they get to about page 30 they might meet a meek mother.