Um..Are YOU Googling ME??

Dear Young-Talented-Eager-Person-Seeking-Challenging-Employment-Opportunities;

Thank you for your interest in our company.  Your education and experience closely parallel that which we consider in candidates for employment.  I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recent Oscar win for ‘Best Short Film’ – the images of the hollers of Appalachia were hauntingly beautiful and Morgan Freeman’s voice overs provided a lyrical gravitas.  When I think that you are also under consideration for a Pulitzer, you should be applauded for accomplishing so much in your relatively short tenure in the work force.  As an aside, we are all beneficiaries of your full-time efforts while in college to discover the cure for the common cold.  You are truly an impressive individual.

As such, it is with great ambivalence that I must advise you of our decision to extend an offer to a candidate who we feel may enjoy greater success within our organization.  In the interest of full disclosure, the suggestive pictures on your Facebook page, coupled with the salacious conversations between you and your friends gave us pause.  Also, in the future you may want to Google yourself, for there are some rather unflattering comments about you written by some anonymous person claiming to have been held as your unpaid valet during elementary school.  We found the incident concerning the rain boots particularly disturbing.

In closing, I want to thank you again for your interest in employment opportunities with us.  We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and great success going forward.

Best regards,

Will Nothire

There’s been quite a bit of press about the appropriateness of employers asking for the Facebook passwords of potential employment candidates.  On its face, there is nothing legally wrong with an employer asking for this information, just as there’s nothing wrong with you denying to provide it.  This is however a far thornier problem than access to a personal site, which may or may not have anything to do with one’s ability to perform a job satisfactorily (I can hear some employers arguing that such information can tell you quite a bit about one’s judgment, but so can really good interview questions…I’m just sayin’)

In the days of MySpace, employers could (and did) access people’s pages and discovered some very disturbing material that certainly impacted their views of prospective and/or current employees.  People would share confidential information about their employers, posted pictures of themselves in compromising situations, wrote about co-workers in ways that bordered on the libelous.  Under circumstances such as that, what would you have done as the employer?  The answers are complicated, and reveal a gold mine of questions pertaining to personal and professional integrity.

Do employers ‘google’ applicants?  I know that some do – and rarely consider that some of the information on the ‘Net may be completely inaccurate (like the ex-boyfriend who posted an article about his girlfriend on a professional web site, which became part of her technological footprint without her knowledge).  Most firms do background checks – carefully ensuring that the information they are seeking is part of the public record and relevant for the position being sought.

But you need to know that nothing is private.  Whatever you put on your FB page; the article you wrote for your university that called for a boycott of classes until the administration conceded to lowering the number of required courses in order to confer a degree; the tweets full of epithets and disconcerting shout-outs to the judges on “The Voice” – it’s all out there for the world to see.  And judge.  Whether it is right or wrong is not the issue we will solve today – or tomorrow for that matter.  But the presumption of privacy when all of our information is dancing around on a cloud with everyone else’s is naive.  Think before you post, consider who may end up being your audience.  And if you really want to be safe – here’s a crazy thought – pick up the phone and talk.

14 thoughts on “Um..Are YOU Googling ME??

  1. Your last sentence is part of my daily conversation with my “eagerly seeking employment” daughter”. Actually all your points today have been addressed regularly at our dinner table this past week since my gifted and talented child has stepped on US soil. However, this generation of technological natives doesn’t always heed the caution. And, find it amusing that we have become the wiser and older generation with sound advice. I’m sharing today’s blog with my daughter, hopefully she’ll heed the words written and also read between the lines and pay attention. Actually, it might work because the words are coming from you and not her mother. Another home run!

  2. These are tough lessons, for they don’t provide unequivocal answers…How much privacy is one entitled to expect in cyber-space, where accounts get hacked, emails get broken into, network administrators with perhaps too much curiousity and too little oversight can wreak havoc on people and enterprises? Is it my employer’s business what I do after hours (btw, the answer to that question is not absolute either)? How can you control your own data? Sigh – I think I need some more coffee… 🙂

  3. One of my favorite sayings – ‘hope is stronger than reality’…I think there is a romantic innocence about what people put up on FB, or on YouTube – or anything else for that matter. Little thought is given to the ramifications of the posting. What happens if it gets into the ‘wrong hands’, when nothing is ever permanently deleted and how easily one’s comments can be taken out of context. It’s a pretty thorny dilemma…thanks for the comments Deb….

  4. I do not feel qualified to participate in this discussion. I have never understood the need to post inappropriate pictures of yourself on the web. It is just not my kind of humor. Never has been. Today’s kids are growing up in a completely different world than I grew up in. I wish them well, as they will have manay challenges to overcome that I did not. Good post.

  5. Thanks for the comments despite your feeling of not being qualified to participate. In my view you are – even if the behaviors are something you may not understand. Part of the question speaks to the lengths employers will go to get information on prospective employees. In my view, that’s what solid interviewing is for – and understanding that sometimes you’ll get it right and other times not (hopefully more of the former than the latter!). But the fact remains that employers are becoming increasingly invasive because they can get access to this stuff – and is a troubling part of this evolution that remains ours to navigate as well..Thanks as always, m

  6. One thing I think about when it comes to this topic is how will it change when the people making these hiring decisions are the first facebook generation. AKA In 5 years when I’m hiring people, am I going to look down on a kid who is holding a beer in his profile picture even though I did the exact same thing? It’s a tough call. Hopefully, we can remember what it was like when we were that age and not hold it against them.

    • You raise a good point…I will say that my sons (who are now working in professional service organizations) are acutely aware of what is on their FB pages. I’m not suggesting that their self-censorship is so extreme that they don’t even sound like themselves, and there are certainly jokes/comments that fly right over my head, but I’m sure resonate with their friends. While I think it is important to remember some of the choices we made when we were younger (and not punish those who may replicate them), I do think there will be a swing back to more considered commentary – if for no other reason than the distaste that such scrutiny can cause. Thanks for chiming in Adam – good to hear from you!

  7. Great post on a hot topic. I’ve had a few conversations with my oldest son on the dangers of Facebook. It’s kind of like getting a tattoo. What may seem like the best idea today at 21 might not look so great at 41 and unfortunately it’s not that easy to get rid of.

    How do we fit into this discussion? I continue to wonder if something that i write in a blog may come back to haunt me at some point. As much as I enjoy it, I’m not sure it’s worth the risk.

    We have the right to remain silent, anything we say (or post) may be used against us in the court of public opinion. I don’t think it’s right, but what’s right and what’s real are quite often two different things.

    • Hi Frank,
      I share your concern – especially as my posts increase. But I feel that our responsibility rests in sharing the narrative. This is what our children may face in their employment future, these are decisions our colleagues may choose to make for which we can broaden their thought process prior to reaching final decisions. The consequences of data clouds are evident – sometimes though only when we want them to be. I guess I think we lead the discussion of she it’s utilization makes sense and when it crosses invisible lines. Does that make sense?

      • It does make sense. Social media is still really in its infancy, and will continue to grow rapidly, hopefully people will use it responsibly and continue to enjoy some freedom.

  8. That’s my hope! As you note, it is a relatively new phenomenon and perhaps when the excitement surrounding its potential abates somewhat, so will the sensationalism that accompanies new technologies!

  9. As much as it is common sense to not be caught with your pants down online, this strikes me as the kind of questionable practice that wouldn’t have as much traction if the job market weren’t over-saturated with qualified young people, as you hint (the Oscar wins, the cures for the common cold, etc.) I would lump this in with the prevalence of unpaid internships and the raising of pension ages around the world (keeping the same people in management-level positions longer and keeping others from rising into those positions) on the list of current hurdles in the job market. All of which, as well, one might be inclined to see in the context of an even larger discussion: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/after-the-boomers-its-generation-squeeze/article2205685/

  10. Great article Paul – with much food for thought. I do think that even within the larger context, curiousity is both the bane and the gift of the humanity. Given the sizeable technological footprints that are being captured in the internet world, I think it will become increasingly common for people to seek out as much information as possible about potential employees (the veracity of that information is of course subject to a separate discussion)…m

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