If you think you are reference checked only near the end of the interview process, you are mistaken - that’s how it was, but no longer. Sure, reference checks as we’ve known them still exist, usually at the end of the hiring process, when an HR rep or hiring manager says to you, “we’d like to make you an offer contingent upon checking your references.” That’s a good sign and the words we want to hear, it means you’re almost there.
But that’s not what I am talking about. Often reference checks take place before you are invited for an interview and it often is a substantial factor in whether or not they will choose to consider you and has little to do with your professional abilities. I am of course referring to your digital footprint, your virtual self, online and especially social media, where increasingly often you may be scrutinized and from where impressions about you are drawn. So while you may be focused upon presenting yourself professionally and doing everything right from that perspective, conclusions are often made according to the impression you make on a personal level, as a reflection of what you post and share online even before they meet you - so much for first impressions, eh.
When you apply for a job and submit your resume, you may be well-qualified on paper, hoping for a chance to meet face-to-face. But it is common and becoming obligatory that HR or a hiring manager will look you up using any number of methods -- and it’s easy, free and takes only seconds simply using the basics: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and of course any work-related website where you may be listed. When they do, what will they find; what will they see and what conclusions might they draw as a result? Imagine, the hiring process is supposed to be about your professional suitability and qualifications for the job you seek - but you may be judged and possibly disqualified according to how they view you personally. Yeah, it’s messed up but that is the reality of where we find ourselves in the modern era – ain’t technology grand?
I have seen postings that leave me shaking my head in disbelief when, for example, someone vents incessantly about how unfair life is, or someone who suggests they don’t want to live, or they want to hurt someone, or a woman who is having a difficulty publicly regrets she didn’t terminate her pregnancy (yeah, I actually saw one like this), etc. You name it, it’s out there and people do it without a second thought. Occasionally, when I’ve pointed out some of these missteps to people I’ve met, they get defensive and retort by arguing they can post what they want and then preach to me about free speech and their freedom of expression. Indeed, you can express yourself however you see fit and so too can hiring managers do the same, by not choosing you.
My point is simple: I’m not suggesting that you not be you but perhaps you should set the appropriate filters to be more selective in just who your audience may be. Likewise, go through and delete old and potentially unsatisfactory or unflattering comments and photos you might have posted and have forgotten. This may surprise some, but with the exception of your closest friends and family, nobody really cares about your innermost thoughts.
So, what’s your online footprint look like at a glance? Don’t shoot the messenger; I’m just here to give constructive advice. You can post to your heart’s content all over for all to see your likes, dislikes, pet peeves and mood du jour without any forethought or afterthought – after all, we’re free to screw up in life, just don’t blame others when it comes back to haunt you.
The internet is a great and powerful tool. You can as easily investigate companies and even the very people you may work for – and you should. You absolutely should exploit all means available to you in order to be as well informed a job candidate as is possible. But they also have the right to scrutinize you in the same manner and like it or not, fairly or unfairly, you will be judged accordingly.