Love it or hate it, but if people want to find out information about you, it’s not going to be difficult nowadays thanks to the internet. A complete stranger can basically get to know you in more detail without you ever finding out! How does that sound? Scary? You will be googled, no doubt! BUT are you going to love it, or hate it? Well, it depends. If you are one of those people who seem to have no online existence, people might perceive you as “odd”, “suspicious” or as someone who might have to hide something. Even though there might be nothing wrong with people who seem to be “inexistent online”, they simply don’t want the world to know much about their persona. On the other hand, if you want to present yourself in your profession as someone who is competent and trustworthy, then social media can offer you a wide platform of options that allow you to shine by having a positive online presence. In that case you need to make sure that you tackle this challenge with the right strategy right from the beginning.
We all go through different stages in our lives. Just to mention a few: applying for a college or university, looking for a job, dating someone and getting married, becoming independent and buying your own home, doing business with others, etc. No matter what stage in your life you have reached, you will be Googled! We all know it, years ago doing some kind of background checks on people would have never been possible. But now everyone can easily google each other, for free and at no cost! And let’s not forget that people do take their time to conduct their research, make their comparisons or discuss with others before they make up their mind or take a final decision. Apart from the curiosity factor, making your own background checks on other people, will give you the edge in many different ways. It might save you from making horrible mistakes that later you might regret, or help you to seize great opportunities with people you might have otherwise never come across. It would be naïve not to use this opportunity to find out more about other people. However, be cautious because what you see online might often be misleading and not always be the same as what you see offline.
I personally like googling others too. Sometimes people tell me things about themselves that I already know based on what I found online about them. In that case I pretend to be completely google un-savvy, sorry!
You will be Googled – 8 Real Life scenarios
Scenario 1: COLLEGE ADMISSIONS … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are a University Admissions Officer and one of your tasks is to shortlist 30 students from the 100 applications you received so far. What a challenge! Doing a google search on those students who seem to be most suitable – apart from checking their application papers – is a method that several educational institutions are already applying.
Did you know that according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey conducted in 2015 among 400 people, 40 % of admissions officers visit students’ social media pages? That was four times more compared to 2008! However, within that number of 40 %, 11 % admitted that they check those pages “often”, while 89 % check them “rarely”. The five factors that admissions officers were looking at when perusing a prospective student were: awards, talents, scholarships, criminal records or disciplinary actions and admissions sabotage.
Would I do the same if I were a University Admissions Officer? Yes, absolutely!
I was wondering…. Are universities just monitoring their students’ social media presence before they get offered a seat, or do they still actively keep an eye on what they are posting also afterwards? I would think it would be a very time-consuming task for an Admissions Officer to do such kind of social media background checks, but I would not be surprised if in the future universities would start monitoring what is being said online among students too! Using an app or a special software for that would be the key. Having reviewed manually several students and professionals’ social media accounts in the past months, I can assure you that it is a highly time-consuming task. Companies and universities should look for ways to automate this process in order to make sure that their online reputation is impeccable. Students need to realise that Google and social media can become a very powerful tool in rejecting them when it comes to college/university admissions, but not just that!
Scenario 2: BEING A MEMBER IN A SPORTS TEAMS … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are a team member of a sports team, no matter whether it’s football, basketball, rugby, cricket, volleyball etc. If you think it doesn’t matter what you post, you might be mistaken. Are you one of those athletes who uses social media in order to vent their anger and frustration about your sports colleagues, your coach or other sports competitors? You might want to re-consider what you post online because most probably it will turn out to be more harmful than useful for you. The example below confirms my belief in thinking that not just companies and educational institutions, but also sports teams need to take a more active role in monitoring what is being said online about them.
Scenario 3: ONLINE DATING … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are single, female, in your late twenties and you want to find (hopefully) your future spouse. You consider online dating, even though you never made any experiences so far and you feel a bit less confident about it. Apart from what the person told you online, you want to dig a bit deeper and try to find some more information about that guy. Thanks to the internet you stumble upon some content, which you find highly inappropriate and you feel quite shocked and surprised. You come across dirty jokes, racist comments, nude pictures, rude language and inappropriate videos. You realise that this is not the person you want to deal with, not even thinking of getting married to someone like that. You decide instantly to distance yourself from that person! So, having an impeccable online presence not just for professional reasons but also for social, interpersonal reasons is still very important. If you have the choice to check people out, for God’s sake, use the opportunity and don’t waste your time with people who are not worth your time and presence.
A dating trends survey conducted in the US in 2011 by a dating service, called “It’s Just Lunch”, surveyed more than 1,100 users of their site with regard to how they make use of Google when dating. The result showed that 43 % of people do google their dates, while 88 % of people feel comfortable being Googled.
Some time ago I had a very interesting conversation and exchange of ideas with Viki Keshishyan, a certified Etiquette Consultant at http://www.universaletiquette.com The topic was about social media background screening. I would like to share with her kind permission what she had to say:
“I read somewhere about a woman who does not waste her time with going out with the guys for months to know them better. She just goes to their pages on Facebook, Instagram and boom! — she knows their hobbies, families, political views etc., and if she does not like what she sees, she moves on.”
To me this sounds like an effective and modern approach to dating. Fully agree!
Scenario 4: BUYING/RENTING A HOME … You will be Googled
Imagine … you want to buy your first own home. You found a lovely house but the problem is that there are 3 other people who expressed their interest in the same property. The real estate agent/home owner has now the difficult task to decide who to give the house to, considering the fact that all four buyers are able to pay the purchasing price in full upfront. Now what is he going to do? He decides to google all the interested buyers in order to facilitate his decision on who he should sell the property to. Do you think this practice is a joke? Surely not. In the future more and more real estate agents/home owners will use social media to find out more about potential buyers.
Even if you are not buying a house or flat, but renting one instead, landlords or real estate agents would still conduct their background checks. They do find their own ways to check if a tenant is able to pay their monthly rent on time and if they take proper care of the respective property. Here you have it, Linkedin could be used for employment verification purposes. Facebook and Instagram could be useful to find out if the potential tenant might have any pets that were not mentioned in the application, or give you an insight on the possibility and frequency of potential parties taking place.
Trent Zachmann, a real estate expert from Renters Warehouse, confirms that landlords don’t just look at a potential tenant’s work and financial history, but also at criminal records and their social media accounts. Before they are handing over the keys to a new tenant, they want to make sure they sold their property to decent people.
Scenario 5: CHOOSING A DOCTOR / SCREENING YOUR PATIENTS … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are looking for a new doctor or dentist. Would you not be tempted to find out a bit more about them? Would you not want to know where they got their education from, if there are any positive reviews from other patients, whether they got sued for malpractice or disciplinary actions, whether they have a rude receptionist and so on. Let’s not forget, a doctor or dentist is someone who you need to trust.
But remember that also a doctor or a dentist might take the liberty to google their patients. What makes you think that they might not do the same background checks about you? It might be out of curiosity, or to get a better understanding about your lifestyle in order to shape a better treatment plan for you. Well, if you are trying to give up smoking, and your doctor has the opportunity to spot pictures of you smoking in abundance, even after giving you clear guidelines on how to reduce it, what do you think might cross your doctor’s mind? A doctor would not act illegally when researching its patients on the internet, since the information they would find, is publicly accessible for everyone. There would also not be any issue of confidentiality, but whether social media screening is ethical or not, remains debateable. Some consider it as intrusive, while others look at it as a great practise which should not be ignored.
Psychotherapist Ofur Zur points out that “many psychotherapists and ethicists emphasize the importance of informed consent” which means that if clinicians are googling patients, it should be clinically justified and approved by the patient prior to the first session.
Scenario 6: APPLYING FOR A JOB … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are looking for a job and you keep on getting rejections. You start wondering why they don’t invite you for interviews. The few times that you have been invited to an interview, also led to a rejection and another candidate being hired instead. Has it ever crossed your mind that your inappropriate online presence might be the reason for it? It’s not a secret anymore, companies as well as recruitment consultants conduct social media background checks on a regular basis. They want to make sure that they are taking aboard the right person, someone who they can be proud of, rather than feeling embarrassed because of what their reputation online reveals about them.
Several research studies have been conducted which prove that a jobseeker’s online reputation does matter in the final hiring decision. One example is Reppler. This company surveyed more than 3000 hiring professionals to find out at what stage and how recruiters are screening job candidates on social media channels.
The result of the study showed that 90 % of recruiters and HR Managers have checked a prospective candidate’s profile on social media networks as part of their recruitment process. An astonishing 69 % of recruiters on the other hand have rejected a candidate based on the inappropriate content they found online on that person’s account. But let’s not just look at the negative side of it, it also needs to be said that an equal part of 68 % of recruiters have HIRED a candidate based on their positive online presence on social media.
Interview with Mr Sudeep Singh
I also approached two Recruitment Specialists on my own, to find out what their practices are when it comes to social media screening of potential candidates. Mr Sudeep Singh, Founder and Director at ICS Consultancy (http://www.icsconsultancy.com), was so kind to answer my questions in an interview:
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Do you conduct social media background checks for candidates who are applying for jobs?
Sudeep Singh: Yes, we do a social media background check for important positions and for profiles that will be in important roles in any organisation.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: At what stage in the recruitment process do you carry them out (before the interview, after the interview, before offering a job)?
Sudeep Singh: As mentioned previously, since it’s for a senior / important role – most of the social media background checks are done even before talking to the candidate for an opportunity. His network, his social media presence and his behavioural pattern is important to understand.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Which social media websites do you usually check?
Sudeep Singh: The regular places where people show their true nature & character are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. For a more professional approach the candidate’s LinkedIn account and LinkedIn networks are important, more over other networks, such as Meetup, which is also looked into at times.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What are your experiences?
Sudeep Singh: People tend to show different behavioural patterns on different social media sites. People who look good on a LinkedIn profile in formals might turn out to be very nasty in their Facebook posts or tweets! It’s interesting to see how people manage dual personalities and are unable to understand the power of the internet!
Karin Schroeck-Singh: What is the percentage of candidates you have rejected based on their social media profiles?
Sudeep Singh: Very few.
Karin Schroeck-Singh: Would you consider outsourcing this background checks to a Consultant?
Sudeep Singh: The background check for such cases is ideally best done by internal teams as they understand the importance of the role that they need to hire. Outsourcing is required when the volumes become big and unmanageable.
I conducted also a short interview with Abigail Brown, Managing Director at http://www.Openingz.com . She revealed that at her company they also conduct social media background checks during their hiring process. Predominantly LinkedIn, then Facebook and Twitter in order to see if candidates have a profile. At Openingz the stage when they do some background checks is normally before the interview or qualifying call. She considers her experiences so far as good and was generally happy with what she saw on job candidates’ accounts. However, occasionally the photograph used has also put her or even the client off. The percentage of candidates she rejected based on an inappropriate online presence is very small, roughly 10 %. She would not recommend outsourcing social media background checks to a Consultant.
Scenario 7: LOOKING FOR BUSINESS PARTNERS … You will be Googled
Imagine … you are running a business and want to expand your business by taking it to the next level. You start looking for additional business partners. You are one of those people who want to deal with people they like and can trust.
Before you take a decision you conduct a google and social media background check on several potential business partners. Your task is not difficult because with LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can provide you with loads of valuable information that shows the most authentic version of a person. You want to make sure you deal with the right sort of professionals. Having a thorough look at their profile, not just one, but the more the better, will help you to determine whether you are looking for the right person or not. Bear in mind, it’s not just about googling other business partners. Your direct competitors can also easily check you and your company out and gain relevant information from that.
Scenario 8: CHOOSING A LAWYER … you will be Googled
Imagine … you are looking for a lawyer and you need to find someone that is trustworthy and can take up your case. I remember when last year a lawyer from the UK started following me on Twitter and then also wanted to befriend me on Facebook, whose request I accepted. I was not actively looking for a lawyer, however, I found the experience I made interesting. While his Twitter feeds seemed to be okay and funny, the insights I got from Facebook showed a very different picture. Would I ever approach that person in real life in case I would need a lawyer? NO.
LexisNexis conducted a study in 2012 which revealed that more than three quarters of Internet users who are looking for an attorney do their search online at some point. While social media is a great tool to promote their practices, professionals working in the legal industry need to balance their urge for publicity with sensitive caution. The fact that jurors have the opportunity to view not just their professional achievements, but to some extent also have access to posts and photos that might have been intended for private consumption by family and friends only. If you are a lawyer or someone working in the legal industry, you need to be careful about potential pitfalls and dangers. Juries for example are generally sceptical about lawyers’ integrity. Posting disparaging remarks about jurors or posting things that express political, religious or social views can also backfire, considering that not all jurors might be on the same side when it comes to certain affiliations. Furthermore, there are lawyers who are known to dress down or drive to court in damaged or cheap cars when it comes to their court appearances, in order to mislead others. If you check their social media accounts you might realise the flashy lifestyle that they are conducting, with sportive cars, international holiday trips, expensive homes or other symbols of luxury. It would be always wise to show your true colours (offline as well as online) so that also your professionalism and honesty will never be questioned!
You will be Googled … My personal conclusion
No matter for what purpose you will be googled, always remember that people nowadays are very web-savvy. It would be wise to use social media channels to enhance your credibility and respectability, instead of being rejected at various stages in your life for the inappropriate content you post online.
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Author: Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a trilingual Career Optimizer at www.Careerheads.com. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 20 years of international work experience in various industries in Italy, the UK and India. Her passion lies in creating multilingual, high-quality content in career matters, giving highly engaging public speeches and helping job seekers to optimize their career by providing professional coaching. She is the author of several ebooks, among them “44 Tips for a successful Video Interview” (http://careerheads.com/product/ebook-44-tips-for-a-successful-video-interview/). She has written several career and business articles for international HR and Marketing companies. Her favourite motto is “Learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime!” Follow her on Twitter @CareerHeads.