the recruiter will cyber-stalk you now…

March 30, 2010

They’re out there, looking at your social networking profiles, party pictures, comments on news sites and even what your family and friends are doing online. They’re employers who receive your resume and decided that to make a proper decision about your potential at their company is to cyber-stalk you. In fact, some 70% of them rejected you for what they saw as an online transgression in an accelerating trend since 2008, when some of the first tales of corporate cyber-stalking during the hiring process came to light. Supposedly, they only want to check if you’ve been misrepresenting your job history by looking through your social media accounts. But it’s not exactly a comforting thought to know recruiters browse through whatever they can find out about you while saying they’re “just checking things out” and making silent, and sometimes costly judgments about your fate.

Sure, you can argue that anything that goes online is fair game and if you don’t want anyone seeing a photo or a comment, just don’t post it. Plus, you could always use your privacy settings to lock your profile down. But we should remember that employers aren’t just looking at Facebook anyone but searching for anything about you. And that’s when the real trouble starts. What if they come across a blog you’ve started and get incensed after a post catches their eye? At that point it doesn’t matter if your blog gets ten or ten thousand views a day, all it will take for your resume to be hurled in the trash, or your job offer to be revoked is just one view that disagrees. It can become a way to discriminate based on political affiliation and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) in a way that makes it much harder to address. Did you write something in praise of the health reform bill, or authored sympathetic odes to tea party zealots? Got something to say about the merits of atheism or state your explicit religious beliefs? Oh too bad, so sad, your resume just wasn’t up to par for Acme Corp according to recruiter Jane Doe after a really, really careful and thorough review…

Of course proving all this in a court of law would be very difficult. Unless you have your own blog and know the methods for tracking down IP addresses of visitors to find someone accessing it from a corporate computer, you won’t know who viewed whatever information was used to ultimately discard your application. And even if you do, once you start getting into the realm of a thousand daily visits, it would become a full time job to watch where your readers really are. When it comes to Facebook or Twitter, you’re on your own. To find any proof that you were the victim of discrimination based on your personal information would require a subpoena or two for the histories of the recruiters’ corporate networks and even then, it’s your word against the recruiter’s. You say he left a nasty comment on your post about the politicians you support, or your story of leaving your childhood faith, then threw away your resume. He says you weren’t as qualified as another candidate whose resume he can’t produce because it would violate privacy policies. And the comment wasn’t from him anyway since the IP which was registered was just the gateway IP for the company’s private network.

The most important thing to note here though, is that sifting through your personal information online to find a proper candidate who will make a perfect ideological fit at a company has nothing to do with that candidate’s professional abilities. Maybe if she’s applying to be a PR manager or a social media strategist, a slick profile that’s designed to attract employers would be a bonus. But for a programmer, an administrator, or an analyst, this kind of scrutiny is a case of recruiters sifting through personal information just because they can and they just happen to find it. They’re not supposed to and they can always claim they’re not digging into way too much detail, but really, its there at your fingertips and chances are, you’re going to look and you’re going to judge. An entire entertainment industry has been build on the human propensity for gossip and voyeurism so pounding your chest with your fists and declaring that you’d never look at really personal data isn’t very convincing. Even worse, this development gives ever more leverage to those who want to censor bloggers they hate by outing them in the hopes that employers will do the dirty work of rejecting their hated writers for jobs or firing them in the urge to avoid any and all controversy, even an ultimately meaningless one…

[ illustration by Sven Prim ]

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  • That’s why I use a pseudonym and post fringe stuff that interests me, but most companies could care less about.

    I only use Facebook to talk to my married oldest daughter and even then I don’t use a recent photo (or any photo for that matter!).

    If anybody wants to dig up dirt on me that bad, they can go to the VA to get it. They can be pretty inept with record-keeping at times!

  • Darlene

    Reading this brought two things to mind:

    One, keep your private life private. It may be old fashioned, but I would never put in writing anything I wouldn’t be willing to read aloud in a courtroom.

    Second, people can’t change who they are when they go to work. Yes, they can act in a more professional manner, but an arrogant SOB will be an arrogant SOB at home and at work. A sexist might be good at hiding it, but odds are it’ll surface somewhere and put the company at risk, so if I see it I can avoid it.

    I think people need to know that how they represent themselves is also how people perceive them to be. So if they want a job in a conservative corporation they need to be that. Companies hire not only for skill and ability and experience but for fit. If you aren’t a good fit you will disrupt the organization. No matter how skilled you are, for most jobs there are other people with a similar level of skill. And if I can hire the one who won’t cause hate and discontent and will share the company vision and who I don’t have to worry about leading us to a lawsuit or other problem, why wouldn’t I? That is just good business.

    Keep your private life private. If you need to blog about some contraversial issue then you might also want to either be up-front about your activities to any prospective boss, so that there are no surprises and so that they know that you know that they know about your blog, so they will know that you know that, having been open about it they have to be much more careful about making a decision based on it.

    If someone came for an interview and did well, but someone I know and trust gave them a bad reference I wouldn’t hire them. Heck, since it is hard to give a bad reference (for legal reasons) I always knew that a boss who just stuck to the facts was busy trying to not say something bad. If they liked the person they usually came right out and said so.

    The point being, nobody gets hired without several bits of information, usually collected from different sources: background checks, credit checks, drug tests, assorted personality tests, references…a quick google search…

    Before you start interviewing check yourself online and see what you look like.

  • RaggMopp

    @Darlene: Who can argue with that? But do you know you’ve just given a seminar on how to have got along in the Soviet Union or in the Iran of the current theocracy?

    “Oh yeah, free speech is your right as a citizen of this marvellous republic, but if you exercise it, you are gonna pay, sucker.”

    I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m sure you have a good point, and I’m sure It’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better; what with the Roberts’ court’s ruling on corporate free speech, aka the right of corporations to buy elections, it could get to a place Americans have never dreamed of much less ever been.

    You hang in there, sweetheart; I’m sure your reward awaits in heaven.

  • Greg Fish

    But do you know you’ve just given a seminar on how to have got along in the Soviet Union or in the Iran of the current theocracy?

    I really wouldn’t compare Darlene’s comment that companies are going to judge you because they’re ran by people who gossip and base hiring decisions on subjective, personal opinions to anything like theocracy or dictatorship seminars. Yes, there are always consequences for free speech. The question is how severe. Remember, the things that put off one employer might just attract another.

  • RaggMopp

    @gfish: Come on, gfish. She just told you how to hide who you are, what you think, and to “never put in writing anything you wouldn’t be willing to read aloud in a courtroom.” Do you know how subjective that is?

    What courtroom? When? Under what constitution or what interpretation of the Constitution; John Yoo’s? How ’bout in a military tribunal where the charge is terrorism, you’ve been disappeared, and have had no contact with your family, much less an attorney, they’ve assigned a second lieutenant who just graduated with a BA in English Lit. as your “public defender”, and the prosecutor is a Lt. Colonel who’s got two rows of decorations on top of his five rows of “I was there” ribbons, a combat infantryman’s badge and parachutists wings with a gold star (combat jump” – Panama with the Second Rangers?), and is a licensed attorney in five states. My take on that is: “I should not have been born, much less learned to speak, and when I learned to write I committed suicide; clearly I am dead meat”

    @Darlene: Congratulations! That’s a first. Gfish never stoops to defend posters; not ’til now. I know what it was: When I said “sweetheart”. That was calculated sexism, and I should have had my nose bloodied; so Greg stepped up and popped me one. Good job, gfish. I had it coming. Just because I can get away with addressing my daughters-in-law as sweetheart or darlin’ and my granddaughters as munchkin or baby or sweetpea, doesn’t give me a carte blanche to call anyone else such diminutives, which in such cases as this can be considered demeaning.

  • Greg Fish

    She just told you how to hide who you are, what you think…

    Not in the least. She said that if you tackle controversial topics on a blog, you should be up front about it with a future employer so there are no surprises. Trust me, when I’m talking business and research, the people with who I talk know all about the blog and what I do here, just as Darlene advises. This is the opposite of hiding what you think and who you are. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

    Gfish never stoops to defend posters; not ’til now.

    Stoop? Absolutely not. When posters are being criticized unfairly, I try to defend them. Luckily this happens pretty rarely so you probably never saw it, something I take as a positive sign about my readership. People may argue and disagree bitterly here, but we at least try to be fair.