You’ve been Googled: what employers don’t want to see in your online profile

What are recruiters looking for when they conduct online searches on individuals before deciding whether to offer them interviews? Evidence of involvement in business networks and community projects? Examples of success at work, college or on the sports field? Or are they simply trying to tool themselves with a few choice examples from dodgy websites that will do nothing but cause discomfort for an already nervous candidate?

So, what will employers want to find, and what will put them off? Luci Baldwin, IPC Media resourcing and recruitment manager, says anything constructive and positive will work in a candidate’s favour. “Evidence of involvement in community activities, a presence on a business network such as LinkedIn, and anything to demonstrate good communication skills are key attributes we look for,” she said.

“Written material should be positive and error-free. So much the better if there is evidence of teamwork, or an account of some really special project a candidate has been involved with. Anything constructive and memorable can go a long way to supporting an individual application.”

And what about the bad stuff? Shuvo Loha, director of headhunting specialists Janikin Rooke, starts simply. “It would worry me to find negative remarks about a person or from them,” he says.

“So much of what we do is documented somewhere online nowadays people have to be very careful. What seemed like a funny photo from university could end up costing you a job or an interview without you even knowing. Evidence of a negative or bad attitude, revealed through too much complaining or ranting, would put me off, as would anything that suggests a candidate is intolerant or extreme in opinion. Bad mouthing other people, especially employers, is out, as is anything that exaggerates or is too self-promotional.”

Luci and Shuvo offer sound advice. After all, the truth is that good interviewers, like good candidates, take time to do some research on the person or people they are planning to meet. Research by ExecuNet showed that 77% of recruiters said they used search engines to find background data on candidates. Additionally, 35% admitted they eliminated a candidate because of what they found online.

The same survey quizzed job candidates, too. It found that 82% expected recruiters to check out their names on a search engine, yet only 33% bothered to search for information on themselves, to see what their prospective employer might find out.

In conclusion, it pays to be a little circumspect about what you contribute to the web, and where your contribution is placed. And since it’s tricky to take back any words you might later regret, then do expect questions in an interview, and think hard about how you will explain yourself. That in its own right will earn you valuable points.

Whatever you do, don’t get into the position one candidate found himself in. He was at an interview, facing a panel of senior executives. The CEO began the interview by stating, deadpan: “Yes, you ARE stunningly gorgeous.” Completely wrong-footed by this bizarre opening to the interview, the candidate failed to recover his composure and the encounter went from bad to worse. Eventually, the penny dropped that the CEO had done a search on the candidate and found the bold assertion on his Facebook page that he was ‘stunningly gorgeous’. The candidate’s failure to do a mental mop-up of his own cyberspace contributed to his failure on this particular occasion.

Cary Cooper is Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School. He also heads Interview Guru, a new video-based web resource for interview skills development

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