Your Digital Footprint and the Permanent Job Search

“Don’t post it online if you wouldn’t want your employer to see it.”

Plenty of people have heard this sage piece of advice before, even if the advice itself is no more than 10 or 15 years old. The reason it’s become so pertinent is that your digital footprint defines who you are now more than ever. Almost everything you do nowadays is passively recorded, tracked, and stored on the internet by third parties, and modern employers are tapping into that data to make hiring decisions before they’ve even met their prospective employees in person.

What Are Employers On the Lookout For?

The truth is that the internet has become the biggest, baddest, and most comprehensive research tool for almost every aspect of life. According to a CareerBuilder survey from 2015, 52 percent of employers use social networking sites and search engines to research job candidates, a significant rise from 43 percent in 2014, and 39 percent in 2013.

Employers aren’t necessarily looking for reasons not to hire prospective employees. In fact, the same survey posits that 60 percent are looking for reasons to hire, either by the way of official or unofficial qualifications for the job in question. There are the employers out there that do admit they’re actively looking for reasons not to hire a candidate, but that only accounts for 21 percent of those surveyed.

Unfortunately, looking or not, the survey showed that roughly 48 percent of hiring managers who have screened candidates on social media found something compelling them to make the decision not to hire in 2015. Fortunately, that’s a drop from 51 percent in 2014, and though it’s not that significant of a difference, hopefully we’ll see the trend continue into 2016 with potential candidates becoming more savvy with how they use their online profiles. The most frequent “social media infractions” that have led employers to make the decision not to hire include:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs (46 percent)
  • Information about candidate drinking or doing drugs (40 percent)
  • Bad-mouthing previous employers or fellow employees (34 percent)
  • Poor communication skills (30 percent)
  • Discriminatory, sexist, or racist comments (29 percent)

Harvard Business Review uses the term “Permanent Job Search” to describe the way the personal information that makes up your digital footprint is constantly collected, analyzed, and evaluated in terms of hireability. Whether you like it or not, this Permanent Job Search, and, more importantly, your digital footprint, has turned you into a brand.

The Job Search Has Turned You Into a Brand

“You too are a brand. Whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not.” – Marc Ecko

In 2011, Business Insider released a pretty extensive article titled “Brand: You. Creating and Self-Marketing Yourself to Find a Job During Tough Times.” The advice listed is still pertinent for the most part, but, more importantly, comes from an interesting time in humanity’s history: the midst of the digitization of the human experience. Of course, we still have a way to go–but we’ve crossed a threshold since then in terms of interconnectivity, social visibility, and how much privacy our culture will allow its individuals to retain.

There is no better way to properly express this than by pointing out the simple fact that nowadays we don’t trust anybody that doesn’t have a social media account, let alone digital footprints. Tech has become so integral to our society that we’re more likely to believe that somebody is hiding something than we are that they actually have no online presence. We do the same type of analyses with businesses–if there is clearly more benefit from embracing and engaging in the techno-zeitgeist, why wouldn’t you dive in head first?

As a job-seeker, a brand, and a participant in the world of social media, it’s worth it to define yourself to your audience clearly. New age technological literacy means always living with the rules of job searching and digital marketing in mind, including perhaps the biggest rule of both, which is knowing your audience–or, at the very least, knowing what your audience should and shouldn’t see.

The same CareerBuilder survey that lists what employers turned down applicants for in relation to social media posts also made mention that 32 percent of hiring managers in 2015 actually found information online that caused them to hire candidates instead of pass on them. This includes:

  • Background information supporting job qualifications
  • Overall personality indicating a good fit with company culture
  • Good communication skills
  • Information showing candidate is creative

The hard part is figuring out what you should highlight, and how you should cater to members of your specific job market. Fortunately, what not to show an employer is pretty universal, no matter what job you’re applying for.

Cleaning Up Your Digital Footprint

Whether you’re entering the job market for the first time or you’re a vet looking for a new position, it’s always good to make sure that your digital footprint looks pristine for the job search. JT Ripton, contributor to College Recruiter and The Guardian, lists seven basic ways you can clean up your footprint and strengthen your chances of hireability. Be they for recent graduates or for experienced vets back on the market, the steps are the same:

  1. First, Google yourself. See what pops up. If your name is common, add variations including your hometown and high school. If anything that you wouldn’t want an employer to see pops up, contact the site and ask them to take it down.
  2. Beef up your privacy settings. Think of them as the new business clothes of the real world.
  3. Remove risqué content. This one is most essential for high school and college graduates, but everybody on the job hunt would do well to give their “photos” section a once-over.
  4. Delete your inactive profiles. They make your footprint look sloppy and serve as nothing more than security risks.
  5. Check blogs and forums too. While your social media profiles might look pristine, those two or three unscrupulous AngelFire blog posts from ten years ago might still be around.
  6. Use a pen name. There’s nothing wrong with having hobbies not considered “business professional.” For the most ardently adventurous, romping-ly risqué, and wonderfully weird subjects… consider a pen name.
  7. Stay vigilant. Concerts, bachelorette parties, weddings, and nights in Las Vegas won’t stop happening just because you got a new job. Just make sure your media is under control, and you won’t have to scrub again.

That last one deserves a post all of its own. It does no good to weed a garden if you intend to let that garden become overgrown again.

The Importance of Your Digital Footprint – Now and in the Future

Most Millennials have had a digital footprint since age two, and the first generations of humans to lay down a digital existence since birth already grace this planet. It’s interesting to think about this symbiotic relationship we’ve created with data, to think about humans before, during, and after the technological revolution. Some think that we’ll become so inextricably intertwined with our digital footprints that we’ll start using our data as currency, stored in a sort of digital footprint wallet.

Whatever the case for the future, the fact is that your digital footprint already affects your ability to make and spend money, as it could be the deciding factor behind why you did or didn’t get a job. We’re entering an era where somebody’s digital footprint is akin to the cover by which you judge a book–make sure that yours represents you well.


Photo Credit: RollisFontenot via Compfight cc