Googling Employees: Why Your Online Reputation Matters

According to a study by Microsoft,70% of employers (in the United States) rejected potential employees because of information found out about them online.  Interestingly, the numbers are much less in other countries (41% in the UK, 16% in Germany, and 14% in France)

However, fewer than 15% of people believe their online information will matter in getting hired.

The study was “conducted with 2,500 consumers, HR managers and recruitment professionals in the US, UK, Germany and France.”

According to the study:

In the United States, 89% of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed find it appropriate to consider professional online data when assessing a candidate; 84% of them think it is proper to consider personal data posted online.

As I have indicated previously, most employers who use information they find online about job candidates lack a policy for doing so fairly and ethically (and sometimes legally).   Should prospective employees be told when their employers google them?  Should they have a right to respond?  What procedures are in place to ensure that the information found online in fact relates to the job candidate and not another person with the same name?  Is any distinction made between information that a person voluntarily posts and information others post about them?  Are any steps taken to make sure the information is true and not a spurious rumor?  What boundaries are there for online searching?  Improperly gaining access to a person’s profile on Facebook, for example, could be a violation of law depending upon how it is done.

The Microsoft study is available here.  This data is much more extensive than what I found when I was doing research for The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet.   I didn’t have much by way of statistics back in 2007, but I discussed a few interesting anecdotes in Chapter 2.

Below is a chart  from the study listing the kinds of information employers found most discrediting.

Hat tip: Adjunct Law Prof Blog

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8 Responses

  1. One of the most worrisome aspects of Google’s algorithmic choices is the way that it can favor sites which thrive on pageview-seeking (the web version of talk-radio). The implications for on jobs-seeking are quite frightening.

  2. Don Mac Gregor says:

    This practice of Googling employees and checking Facebook pages strikes me as lazy background checking. Whatever happend to picking up the phone and calling former employers for background information?

  3. Christa says:

    I second DMG’s comment. Why is it that legal employers tend not to contact references and even refuse reference letters, yet would take the time to Google you? I think that I have raving fans for most references, but an internet search would never tell you so.

  4. dude says:

    Christa: I think the simplest explanation is efficiency, or less charitably, laziness. Googling takes seconds. If you’ve got a stack of resumes to go through, maybe you can junk 2/3 of them in moments… then check actual references for the ones who don’t come off as drunken fratboys or the like.

  5. bimme says:

    Most employers won’t give references beyond dates of employment, job title, and — only sometimes — rate of pay. They also prohibit their employees from giving recommendations. So the employers who are looking to hire people often are left with what they *can* find out, which is what’s online.

  6. rhubarb bob says:

    “This practice of Googling employees and checking Facebook pages strikes me as lazy background checking. Whatever happend to picking up the phone and calling former employers for background information?”

    Former investigator here. Have performed and managed literally thousands of background checks.


    Employment verification is part of the standard background check but so is establishing online profile. But it’s usually valueless: if you don’t have a letter of recommendation from an old boss, most companies’ policy is to say “yes, Alex Rodriguez worker here from May 2000 to June 2004”, and that’s it. You rarely get any useful information from reference checks.

    2) Very few HR depts actually know how to conduct a proper background check, usually it’s outsourced. Background checks are usually only done after an offer is made. How intensive the check is will depend on how much money you want to pay, which depends on how important the candidate is, what the industry is, and how organized the HR dept is.

    3) A proper background check goes more intensively into online profile than just google. What we’re talking about here is just HR people and managers idly googling you. If they can do it and find out you look like a douche, then clients can do it just as easily. How much this matters depends on how important you are or how much your firm wants to hire/fire you.

    Bottom line: the internet is a public space open to all. Don’t make any comment in your own name (or traceable to you by image, email address, phone number etc) that you wouldn’t want printed out and posted on the noticeboard at work. And never trust social networks’ privacy settings!