What employers look for when they Google you (3 key takeaways)

Insider Pro reached out to recruiters and HR pros to find out how they research job candidates online, what they’re looking for and what they think if a candidate has no online presence.

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If you’re up for a new job, rest assured: Your potential employer is looking into your digital past.

Like it or not, the majority of employers — 66 percent — will Google a job candidate they’re considering, according to a 2018 CareerBuilder study. What’s more, 70 percent will check out your public Facebook and other social media posts, and 57 percent won’t hire you if they don’t like what they find. Hiring professionals looking for IT (74 percent) and manufacturing (73 percent) talent are the most likely to dig into your social media history, the study finds.

Similarly, a 2018 JobVite survey (downloadable PDF) finds that 77 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to check out candidates, followed by Facebook (63 percent) and Instagram (25 percent). Millennial recruiters (35 percent) and those with technology employers (63 percent) are the most likely to check out a candidate’s Instagram feed.

“In today’s age of employer liability, with the due diligence to vet potential employees and the ease in finding background information, it’s inconceivable that employers wouldn’t perform this type of research on job candidates,” says author Dean Gualco, who holds a doctorate in education and is a faculty member of Walden University’s M.S. in Human Resource Management department.

Insider Pro reached out to recruiters and human resource (HR) professionals to find out how they research job candidates online; what they’re looking for; and what they think if a candidate lacks an online presence.

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How do recruiters research job candidates online?

Many headhunters use every online tool available to (a) find potential candidates for specific jobs and then (b) thoroughly vet prospects, says Curtis Britt, director of delivery, IT services at Korn Ferry, a global hiring and organizational consulting firm.

Britt says it’s customary to closely review candidates’ LinkedIn profiles; perform a Google search using their names; and look at their public social media posts. In addition, for IT talent, Britt says hiring professionals will often look to see if a candidate is active on GitHub and Stack Overflow and in relevant Meetup groups.

But not every recruiter or employer will investigate your social media history.

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“We conduct only a moderate amount of research on candidates, which includes a quick Google search and a review of a candidate’s LinkedIn profile,” says Pete Sosnowski, vice president and co-founder of Zety, an online resume building tool. Beyond that, “we don’t spend much time digging through all possible social media profiles,” he adds. “We let job seekers keep their personal lives to themselves.”

What’s more, in a 2016 blog post, recruiting firm Robert Half warns that “your company’s review of online information can raise privacy concerns,” adding that “what you find on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites can include information that is illegal for you to consider during the hiring process.”

Google and social media aside, employers also use online tools such as the National Student Clearinghouse’s (NSC) verification service to double-check a candidate’s education background and Verified Credentials, to look for such things as criminal records and credit reports. Hiring professionals often verify a candidate’s professional certifications as well by using the search function on the certification-awarding organization’s website, says Samuel Johns, hiring manager and HR specialist at online resume building tool Resume Genius.

Top takeaway: Assume potential employers will Google you and look at your public social media posts. “If you’ve publicly posted something you wouldn’t want your mother to see, make it private or take it down,” Britt advises.

What hiring professionals look for when they research job candidates

On the internet, recruiters and employers look for both negative and positive content about job candidates.

On the positive side, 60 percent want to see if you’re engaged in a local or national organizations, such as a nonprofit; 58 percent look for examples of written or design work; and 36 percent want to know if you have mutual connections with them, according to the JobVite study.

“When we research candidates, we look for professional achievements and things that show a candidate’s potential,” adds Sosnowski. Examples include relevant publications that demonstrate thought leadership and activity in online professional groups. “We also look for positive achievements or personality traits,” he adds. “If a candidate is a marathoner, for example, she probably does things with passion and commitment, while animal lovers are often kind and compassionate, the kind of person you’d want to work with.”

On the negative side, 58 percent of recruiters review social media posts for references to marijuana; 47 percent check for political rants; 43 percent pay attention to spelling and grammar mistakes; and 42 percent look for pictures of alcohol consumption, the JobVite survey shows.

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“I look for something that gives me pause,” Johns explains. Examples include derogatory comments posted about a former employer and unsavory comments about a particular sex, religion, sexual orientation, or other group. “We’re looking to ensure that a candidate’s values align with ours,” he adds.

Top takeaway: Above all, many recruiters research candidates online to verify that they are being authentic in how they present themselves, and that their background experience and credentials haven’t been fabricated or exaggerated, says Gualco. “We’re trying to confirm that the information an applicant has given is accurate and consistent,” he adds.

What if hiring professionals Google you and don’t find anything?

If a recruiter Googles you and doesn’t find much, if anything, is that a bad reflection on you?

Some say it is. “No presence online at all is a red flag,” says Lilia Stoyanov, CEO of HR software company Transformify. “It may suggest the person is intentionally hiding something or spells his or her name in a different way on purpose. In both cases, it’s unlikely the person is simply taking special care of personal data and privacy. Just one well-kept social media profile is all they really need.”

“If there's nothing online about the candidate, I’d think they were hiding something or they have nothing to say, which doesn’t look good either,” says Chris Chancey, a professional recruiter and owner of Amplio Recruiting. “With most social media sites, you can use privacy settings to your advantage and limit what people can and can’t see, so there’s no excuse to go missing-in-action.”

Others say that not showing up in a Google search or on social platforms isn’t a deal killer.

In a few areas, in fact, a lack of online presence can actually be viewed as positive, Britt says. “A lot of people working in cybersecurity and information security don’t have an online presence. That’s on purpose, because they know that by using information shared on social media, bad actors can piece together your identity and steal it.”

Top takeaway: A Google search that turns up at least some positive content about you is only going to benefit you — but a lack of an online presence may not hurt your chances.

It all comes down to common sense

Most recruiters and HR professional understand that what they discover online about a candidate should not be taken at face value, Gualco says, especially if it appears to be negative.

“A competent HR professional won’t make a decision based entirely on what they find online or on social media,” Gualco explains. “They’ll at least question what they’ve found and make sure there’s a satisfactory reason for why that information is out there. After all, our goal is to hire the best person for the job, because if we don’t, our competitor will.”

That said, the onus is on the candidate to help potential employers understand the context of what they find. “You should be aware of what’s out there on you and be prepared to offer a truthful explanation of what happened if it’s negative,” Gualco says.