EJM Designs Limited Blog

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snooping Bosses and Social Networks

Since I recently gave a talk about social networks and "What your boss already knows about you," it was interesting to see yet another article on the topic today, this one on MSNBC entitled One in five bosses screens applicants' Web lives.

Unfortunately, MSNBC does not appear to have their house in order:

MSNBC Missing Stories

What the article was probably about, if you are unable to glean from the title, is that more an more employers are researching their employees, easily finding them through MySpace or Facebook or LinkedIn, and sometimes taking them to task over what they find. NY Times wrote about the trend a little over a year ago, but the behavior has been around as long as social networks have been in existence. People are simply starting to notice.

Teachers, Managers, and police officers are getting canned by putting something online, attached to their profile, that someone does not like. And it's not just current employees. Employers are screening prospective employees as well, running ego searches to see what they can find out there about the people they might hire. Colleges are in on the game too, keeping an eye on the MySpace and Facebook and Twitter and YouTube social worlds of high school kids to make sure they are actually the right material. High school teachers are monitoring their students, parents their kids.

What are they looking for? What would they be looking for? Activities from underage drinking to drug use or foolish drunken photos or inappropriate pictures containing sex or nudity or "Hey that's me stealing that street sign! LOL!!1"

It shouldn't come as a surprise, nor should there be any outrage about it. If you put something on the internet where anyone can see it, then why get upset when the "wrong" person looks at it?

Unfortunately, when we're discussing employers who do not have to give an official excuse to an applicant, the line of fairness can be crossed. Imagine the following scenario: The HR Director of a large IT company, a staunch liberal with little patience for anything that is not, comes across the blog of his most qualified candidate. And that candidate spent July through November blogging about how the Democrats were going to ruin America. Even though company policy is to keep politics out of the office, the HR Director throws the resume in the trash.

Is that fair? No. But I'm certain it happens on a regular basis.

The crux of this whole discussion is that if you are out there, if you are trying to get a job or hold on to a job or get into college and are under or potentially under any sort of scrutiny, there are a couple things you should do. Right now.
  • Do an ego search, entering your name into a couple different search engines. With and without quotes. Include nicknames, switch it up with a middle initial. This is what the prospective employer or school will be doing.
  • If you find anything out there that you are not comfortable with everyone seeing, you should probably try to get rid of it.
  • You know if you have a MySpace or Facebook. Get in there and clean up your space like you're having company over. Once it's seen, it can't be unseen.
  • If you have a blog that could be found offensive by language or images or subject or politics, strip your name or identifiers from it. Use a pseudonym.

Is it fair that you may have to distance yourself from what you consider yourself, that you may have to hide your beliefs behind a pen name? No. But life's not fair. You have two choices here: get accepted, get hired, keep your job, or risk not.

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