How Virtual Footprints Affect Employment

Typically, an individual seeking a job prepares, as is recommended, in the following ways: developing a valuable skill set; networking with professionals in his or her field of interest; writing a succinct, yet captivating resume; researching the organization for an interview, if such an offer is extended. However, many applicants neglect to consider a fifth, equally significant component of the job search process: the creation and maintenance of a respectable online image. The use of virtual background checks to dilute an applicant pool is now more prevalent than ever as the Internet becomes increasingly saturated by social media and user-generated content sites. Given the current economic conditions, especially those in the finance industry, applicants cannot afford to be excluded from consideration because of irresponsible Internet activity. Even employees satisfied with secure positions should be wary of their online history, for they, too, could be subject to unexpected checks. Accounting and finance positions beyond entry-level usually require extensive time and training; therefore, professionals should not let their valuable investments go to waste by leaving questionable virtual footprints.

To understand the severity of publicly posting harmful content to the Web, examine the following statistics about employers, recruiters and applicants, taken from a 2010 research study conducted by Microsoft:

  • Search engines are used for 78% of applicant background checks by recruiters.
  • 70% of recruiters will use an applicant’s online activity as grounds for rejection.
  • But only 15% job applicants believe their online reputation will hurt their chances of employment.
  • 63% of recruiters examine applicants’ social media activity.
  • Offensive remarks about an applicant’s past employers, colleagues or friends, communicated via social media, are taken into consideration by 40% of employers.
  • The use of improper grammar online struck 25% of employers as an indication of poor communication skills.

These figures have a number of implications for prospective employees. The first recommendation for cleaning up an online image is to Google your name to become aware of exactly what recruiters and potential employers are capable of finding. This initial step is the best way to determine exactly what information – either self-generated or written by a third party – exists about you on the Internet. From here, one can take appropriate action to remedy the content of the search results. Most likely, social media accounts are going to appear in a Google search. Keeping the research in mind, diligently modify your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social accounts to reflect the concerns of employers and recruiters. Delete inappropriate pictures and offensive comments if found, and adjust privacy settings as needed. Finally, consider setting up Google Alerts to receive a notification each time your name appears in a Web post; this tactic will allow you to efficiently all relevant content in a timely fashion.

Maintaining a reputable status on the Internet entails more than removing negative content, however. In addition to deleting questionable photographs or videos, rude comments or other evidence of immature online behavior, applicants need to foster valuable personal material. Regularly updating a LinkedIn account, for instance, is an appropriate way to ensure that positive and professional data about is available to employers and recruiters. Abacus Group executive recruiter Jason Fleischer, quoted in a 2009 Forbes article, advises that those who are unemployed express, via LinkedIn, their desire for new job opportunities. Additionally, professionals may consider creating a personal blog or webpage that containing information about their career and interests. Such a website can effectively function as a “virtual business card,” according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek interview featuring Todd William, founder of an online reputation management company. For only $10, an individual can register a domain of her choice, ideally his or her first and last name, to ensure the existence of favorable content about oneself on the Internet. In addition to serving as a virtual advertisement for a candidate, a meaningful personal website will divert attention from irremovable damaging material.

Overall, the research data urges all job seekers – as well as current employees – to sustain the practice of responsible Internet behavior. Building an admirable online reputation is not a one-time effort; rather, it must be maintained regularly though careful consideration and the promotion of beneficial content.


Berlin, Amanda. "How to Protect Your Online Reputation."

Sullivan, Bob. "When it comes to online reputation, 'life's not fair and companies ...'"

Di Meglio, Francesca. "Managing Your Online Reputation."

Travis, Kate. "Employers Considering Applicants' Online Reputation."
 Tynan, Dan. "Seven ways to rescue your online reputation."


Views: 415

Comment by Tim Spagnola on October 24, 2011 at 11:03am

Gregory - lots of great points here in this post. Thank you for sharing.

Comment by Sylvia Dahlby on October 24, 2011 at 9:55pm

Great advice. What a lot of people still don't realize is that anything you put online is NEVER private.


I tell people don't post anything you wouldn't shout in a crowded room full of strangers... and to remember the 3M's - your Mother, the Media, and your Mentors (co-workers, boss, neighbors, basically everyone else that knows you).

I've seen some LinkedIn posts that make me cringe; amazing how these people think they can post or text hateful, profane or inflammatory comments & not have that come back to bite them. Didn't they see what happened to that Weiner and Mark Foley?

 I'm also starting to see growth in the "reputation management" business - people who will clean up your online footprints in the mud.


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