Employers scour Web for details on applicants

Jason Banks, senior vice president of Lloyd Staffing, Jason Banks, senior vice president of Lloyd Staffing, sits at his desk to update his company's social media profile. (June 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Liz Malone

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Job seekers, beware: Potential employers are scouring the Web for information about you -- everywhere from Facebook walls to eBay's comment pages.

And they're not just looking for incriminating pictures of beer pong. They want to know whether you make sniping comments about others or have a tendency to stir controversy.

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    "Candidates need to be aware that they are building their brand through social media -- it's out there for all to see," said Ronda Scharlat, who runs a Melville recruiting company.

    As jobs have become scarcer in recent years, experts warn applicants to think before they post details of their personal lives on sites.

    Scharlat has heard about applicants canceling interviews or missing deadlines, only to have employers see Facebook pictures of the "sick" person at a baseball game or party.

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    Amber Speed, 23, of Huntington, who graduated from Stony Brook University, said she had a common-sense guideline: "I wouldn't want to post anything about myself that my parents would find embarrassing."

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    It must have worked. She got a job in the admissions office of St. John's University.

    Ermin Deljanin, 20, of East Meadow, goes further. As he studied accounting at Rockville Centre's Molloy College in recent months, he purged his social networking sites of anything that seemed unprofessional.

    "It's not about doing illegal things, it's about giving people the wrong vibe about yourself," he said. "If you make a silly face on one of your pictures, the employers can think you're very immature."

    That approach worked, too. Deljanin already has a job at an accounting firm. 

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    Privacy settings breached?
    Like many recruiters and employers, Deljanin assumes that employers have a way of breaching privacy settings.

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    That's a good assumption, said Richard Gatteau, director of Stony Brook's Academic and Pre-Professional Advising Center. "You have to think about what you post about your religion, sexual orientation or other subjects," said Gatteau, who teaches students about using social media responsibly.

    At Lloyd Staffing in Melville, recruiters may look at sites like LinkedIn, checking for "consistency in dates, titles, education as listed on a resume," said Jason Banks, executive vice president. "We'll also see if there are recommendations posted and read them to see who wrote them in the employment hierarchy. . . . we might check a Twitter stream to see if a candidate posted his or her impressions on an interview."

    Guilt by association
    Others caution that Facebook walls and links to friends can be damning by association. The thinking, unfair as it may be, is that "if your friends are deadbeats, maybe you are, too," said Michael Fertik, chief executive of ReputationDefender, a California-based online company that helps individuals address online reputation issues.

    In a survey by Cross-Tab Marketing Services that was commissioned by Microsoft and conducted in December 2009, 70 percent of the 275 U.S. recruiters, human resources professionals and hiring managers who responded said they've rejected candidates based on information found online, including inappropriate comments by friends and relatives.

    Thirty-five percent of those employers said they rejected applicants based on membership in certain groups. That leads to questions related to employers' health insurance concerns. Fertik says an employer might notice, for example, that a candidate belongs to a diabetes group and jump to the conclusion the person is too much of a health risk.

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    Social media hazards
    At several Long Island college campuses, professors and career centers discuss the hazards of social media with students. At Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus in Brookville, the subject is introduced as early as freshman orientation, said William Gustafson, associate provost for student success. And St. John's held a workshop for students this spring as job application season heated up.

    Many of the schools promote "online reputation management," which also discusses the benefits of proactively getting professional profiles high on a Google search.

    Michael Hughes, 21, of Selden, just graduated from Suffolk County Community College. A classmate, he said, recently took down a Facebook picture of a "sloshed" group of friends while applying to be a waiter. The job materialized.

    Hughes also is learning to think like an employer because he's joining his father's company, which specializes in home restorations. His father doesn't go to the Web for background information. Indeed, many employment attorneys warn against Googling candidates, as that could open the employer to charges of discrimination, such as that related to age or race.

    Would Hughes look at Facebook as he screens applicants?

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    "My father's from a different era," he said. "I definitely would check up and make sure I'm hiring a legitimate person."

    Creating a better online image
    Parents and professors emphasize removing the drunken photos and lewd comments, but infrequently tell how to "do the exact opposite, be proactive and make a great image," said Trace Cohen of Port Washington, associate account executive at iFluence, a Manhattan public relations firm.

    He's also an original co-founder of Brand-Yourself.com, an online reputation management site. You have to create "a showcase of who you are," and in today's evolving Google-dominated world, a job candidate without that is "so handicapped when it comes to competing and getting an edge," said Andrew Bosco, 22, a liberal arts major at Nassau Community College.

    Here's what you can do
    Monitor. Check out how you're perceived on Google, said Pete Kistler, chief executive of BrandYourself.com. And remember that what people see, even if it's nothing, forms a first impression.

    Control Search.  Create a website with a URL based on your name, which is likely to show up high in search results.

    Control the results. Create professional content to bury anything improper further down on a Google search. That's a way new grads can "control the content, can use it to say positive things about themselves, and use it as a marketing tool in the job search," said Mark Grabowski, journalism professor, Adelphi University.

    Brand yourself. "It's all about tapping social networks and getting yourself out there in the right circles," said Kistler. So, join professional groups on LinkedIn, find key professionals in your field to follow at search.twitter.com, and "get noticed by adding to the conversation."

    -- Patricia Kitchen

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