Is Your Digital Footprint Squashing Your Reputation?

Digital FootprintOver the past few years, several studies have been conducted looking at social media and employer hiring habits.  One of those studies, conducted by Microsoft, showed that 70% of employers in the United States screened out potential employees because of information found online.  The study also showed that the majority of recruiters and HR professionals indicated that they think it’s appropriate to consider personal information found online in screening potential job applicants.

This raised several questions in my mind: What procedures are in place to ensure that the information found online relates to the job candidate (there’s a Donna McNamara who was recently arrested and isn’t me)?  Do they differentiate between information voluntarily posted by an individual versus information someone else posts about them?  Is the information validated for accuracy?  Are there potential legal ramifications of online searching?

In several of my classes, we discussed the importance of having a digital footprint and using various types of media to convey your personal brand.  I’ve been to various speaker engagements that encourage job seekers to create professional websites and use Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to build a personal brand online.  This way, when employers Google you, they find content you’ve created.  For some recruiters, a lack of digital footprint is viewed as a negative; suggesting the applicant hasn’t written articles, created a website, blog or LinkedIn profile.

For potential employees, online information can be especially troublesome as in the case of personal networking sites like Facebook.  Here, people openly post candid photos of themselves and allow others to tag them in photos.  This often means drunken escapes are captured for general public consumption (think Jackass star Ryan Dunn tweeting a photo of himself drinking hours before reports of a fatal car accident).  A potential employer may decide to screen out a candidate after seeing some questionable photos or posts.  Here are a few common reasons why employers have screened out potential job candidates:

  • Falsifying information about qualifications
  • Poor communication skills (spelling and grammar count!)
  • Discriminatory comments were found on posts
  • Posts about excessive drinking or drug usage
  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs or information posted
  • Bad mouthing of previous employer, co-workers or clients
  • Sharing of confidential information from previous employer

And, here are some reasons employers have hired potential candidates:

  • Solid communication skills displayed
  • Profile provided a good feel for the applicant’s personality and fit
  • Creativity displayed
  • Awards, accolades and good references posted
  • Profile supported applicant’s qualifications

Issues with online search don’t just impact potential job candidates.  Recruiters and HR staff doing the searching can open themselves up for trouble by obtaining too much information.  For example, personal networking sites often include information about race, religious beliefs, age, sexual orientation and marital status; factors NOT to be considered in pre-employment screening.  By searching potential candidates’ personal sites, recruiters become exposed to information that does not pertain to the applicant’s ability to perform the job and may inadvertently consider factors such as age, race, etc.

I’ve experienced the use of waivers and releases at the point of application to circumvent such issues so employer concerns may become less problematic.  In addition, some organizations put blocks on social networking sites so that information may not even be available to them.  So what can you do to make sure your online image is what you want it to be?  Bottom line – clean up your social networking sites.

  • Don’t have photos you wouldn’t want an employer to see.
  • No drunken escapes, no profanity, or slurs.
  • Don’t bad mouth former employers, bosses or co-workers.
  • Make your social networking sites private.
  • Sweat the small stuff. Your email address, spelling, and grammar speak to your maturity and communication skills.

Now that I’ve past this information to you, feel free to contact me at rainbows & glitter at gmail dot com.  Or should that read: Now that I’ve passed this information to you, feel free to contact me at mcnamara dot donna at yahoo dot com??

Guest Expert:

Donna McNamara is a recent MBA graduate with 12 years of progressively successful experience in sales and marketing. Prior to attending the NYU Stern School of Business, Donna worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative where she developed a real passion for understanding consumer and client needs. She spent much of her time analyzing market trends to develop creative marketing strategies and cultivating partnerships to differentiate her products and increase brand awareness. Her strengths include developing results-driven customer relationships, analyzing data to identify opportunities and managing and executing marketing strategies. She is adept at using social media to attract, listen to and engage consumers.  Visit her website at to learn more about Donna.

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  1. David Lawyer says:

    Exactly right. If you’re out there looking for work, making sure all your ducks are in a row, which not only includes your resume but your online presence, is important. Sure it’s a lot of work, but its just as important as making sure your resume is up to snuff. Employers are utilizing the web the vet out potential candidates, as well they should. If you can’t do it, find someone who can. Hit the main and most popular social networks first like LinkedIN, Facebook, Twitter, etc etc. Clean up your profile, locate and trash any questionable photos, tweets, comments, groups you participate in, etc. Pretend you are the employer, and look at your social presence – is there something on there that could potentially throw up a red flag from their perspective? Don’t think too hard into this – its more than likely going to be common sense stuff… Be vigilant and manage your digital profile smartly.

    • Well said! I like your last comment “be vigilant and manage your digital profile smartly.” Vigilant and proactive…google yourself regularly to make sure there’s no digital dirt out there. Thanks for the great commentary.


  2. Great post by Donna! Every high school and college student should heed these words of caution as because as we know… Once “IT” is on the internet, it is public domain and no matter how private you attempt to make your comments, pictures, etc. there is always the chance someone will find the information and it will reflect badly.

    20 years ago when camera-phones and mini camcorders didn’t exist, things were different. Think about some of the things you did back then that if it were 2011 may have been captured and publicized. Would have been extremely embarrassing! People need to realize we are in a digital age and act accordingly with style, grace, and professionalism at all times.


    • Thanks John! I cringe to think of what might have been posted about me if the technology existed back then! I’m sort of thankful I didn’t have to grow up in the light of the internet.


  3. Hi Donna, very interesting reasons employers eliminated potential candidates. These days it’s not enough just to create an online portfolio, job seekers should strive to have active accounts to keep their online presence fresh.

  4. Agreed! I read something that suggested that in certain industries it is actually considered a negative if you DON’T have an online presence. thanks for the input.


  5. Maintaining a strong online presence with a consistent personal brand is important. One way to make employers search for you easier is through a Vizibility SearchMe link and QR code, which helps you control and maintain a positive online presence.

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