As employers increasingly seek information online, a professional online presence can help a job candidate stand above the crowd while digital missteps can add up to lost job opportunities. 

Even before a job candidate sits down for an interview, a growing number of employers are doing their homework online, looking for information to either confirm someone has the qualifications – or lacks them – to do the job.

Indeed, according to the 2018 survey from human capital management solutions company CareerBuilder, 70% of employers in the US now use social networking sites to research job candidates – in line with the previous year but up from 60% in 2016 and just 11% in 2006 – and a further seven percent plan to start.

Of those that do social research, 57% said they have found content that caused them not to hire candidates and 22% of those surveyed said they were actively looking for reasons not to hire potential employees. In the US job market and elsewhere, provocative or inappropriate photos, videos or comments are all to be avoided, as is information about personal drinking or drug use. Postings that get someone a ‘like’ online may not be appreciated by future employers, particularly if they are discriminatory or involve bad-mouthing previous employers and fellow employees. A job candidate that appears to be living in the digital world almost all the time, has poor communication skills, lied about qualifications or is unprofessional in other ways is also unlikely to top hiring lists of human resources departments.

The problem of protecting one’s online reputation can’t be resolved by simply deciding not to have an online presence. Indeed, the CareerBuilder survey showed that nearly half of all respondents admit they are less likely to call an individual in for an interview if they can’t find them online – 28% because they like to gather more information before calling in a candidate for an interview and 20% because they expect candidates to have an online presence.

In fact, skilfull online reputation management can allow job candidates to have a competitive advantage over their peers. Employers are looking for individuals with background information supporting their professional qualifications for the job. Strong communication skills, creativity, a wide range of interests, solid references, and compelling content are all considered to be plusses.

Personal, professional websites are also seen as bolstering the odds of job candidates making it to the interview stage, but only a small minority of people have one. Setting up a site is one of several steps that can be taken before sitting down for a job interview. Negative content on social media should also be removed when possible or pushed down to the bottom of search lists by more positive postings. Individuals with common names should take steps to differentiate themselves from like-named people, who may be less concerned about protecting their online reputations. And just as employees conduct research on job candidates, jobseekers should google themselves to see what has been published online and to be prepared for eventual questions.

Even when a job is secured, employees must work on maintaining a strong online reputation. Stories about people being fired for what they post online are not uncommon. CareerBuilder’s 2018 survey showed that nearly half of all employees continue monitoring employees’ online presence after they’re hired and 34% said they have found content online that caused them to reprimand or fire an employee.