What’s the first thing that a good recruiter does after looking at your CV?  They check out your online presence.  Social media audits on potential recruits are on the rise.  What do you think a prospective employer would find if they started to sift through yours?  Would you like a recruiter to hear you ranting about eco-warriors wrecking your commute into work?  Or tweeting back at people on the other side of the referendum result?  If not, you might need to spend a little bit of time looking at your online presence. 

Can employers check your social media? You bet they can and you bet they do.  Indeed, in the United States, more than 75% of job recruiters are required to do a Google pre-screen of potential employees before hiring.  It happens plenty on this side of the pond, too.  “I went to hire someone for a role last year and the fourth thing that came up on my due diligence search of their Twitter feed was of them standing next to a naked male stripper.  I’m no prude but a client of ours could easily have searched for her name.  The candidate was tweeting about their work, too and I wasn’t taking the risk,” says Harriet, a manager working in London.  “She hadn’t listed her social media details on her CV – but you don’t need to signpost it there for that to be an issue.  I’m surprised she wasn’t more self-aware.  Any potential employer is going to google your name and my advice is to google yourself regularly and check what comes up. Make sure any personal profiles are set to private.”

Frankly, given that AI programmes are being used to search for profanity, nudity, references to sex, drugs, boozing and bigotry, even inside jokes between friends and re-posted song lyrics can be misinterpreted and hurt you.  You have to be thorough.

And if you are going to be controversial with your social media content, common sense dictates that, you shouldn’t have a social media handle with your professional name on it.  You need to distance those two parts of your life.

Of course, you may not have a choice.  Some people have done time in prison and if their case was reported in the media and is available online, then the Google Effect means that any self-respecting employer can find out about their criminal record.  Once a conviction is spent, they can apply to the website and search engine to request that the search results are removed.  In May 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that individuals should be able to request the deletion or removal of personal data published online where there is no compelling reason for it to remain - ‘the right to be forgotten’. 

But if you’re having to think about that you might be in “changing your name” territory.  That won’t leave a criminal record behind (because if an employer does a criminal record check, depending on whether the conviction is spent, and depending on the level of check, it may still come back), though it does prevent people from getting access to information, such as spent convictions. 

For the rest of us, the repercussions might not be quite that serious, but they can still result in you not getting the job you want.  You can improve your online reputation with the help of sites like BrandYourself.com.  You may recognise the name – the company's CEO and COO appeared in the BBC show Dragons' Den where they accepted an offer from entrepreneur Peter Jones.  They specialise in dealing with unwanted Google results, including Court documents and records; lawsuits and litigation; press articles, unhelpful blog posts; as well as images, photos, and other multimedia – with using branding and SEO techniques to sort out the search results.  They’ll check your online presence on your behalf to find whether any of the search results are candidates for de-indexing from search engines in which case they can remove them completely. 

How do you run a social media background check on yourself?

You can search Google yourself, of course, but you need to have logged out and cleared the cache on your machine, or browsing via incognito mode.  If you find anything bad, you can do some damage limitation by trying to bury those unhelpful results below positive content that tells your story, minimising the number of people who will find those negative results.  You can publish blog posts and social media updates to put your best foot forward online month in, month out.  This continual creation of optimised content helps keep positive webpages above your negative webpages – and creates a protective barrier that helps prevent new negatives posts and results from being seen.

Do I have to delete my social media presence?

Are you feeling a little smug because your social media is locked down and there’s nothing at all to find?  Got your privacy settings up to 11?  Well, that’s not necessarily so smart either, Sherlock.  Why do employers check your social media?  Well, they are worried you might embarrass them, certainly.  But they are also looking for colour.  They want to know if you are as good as you claim, and social media can help candidates prove that.  It’s certainly what the competition is doing.  Your peers are smashing out insightful brilliant LinkedIn posts – demonstrating their intelligence, knowledge, and influence in the industry.  They’re using Twitter to highlight their interests outside of work and the fact that before they qualified as an accountant, they also got their commercial pilots license and did fantastic work supporting the local community.  It’s not just about sweeping up the social media mess.  If you don’t have any positive content, then there is no way for it to show up on the first page of that Google search.

“The first 10 things that a prospective employer is going to find out about you when they google you should show you in an excellent professional light,” says Harriet.  “Being savvy with your use of social media represents a great opportunity to show that you’re really experienced and a great person to work with.”

How do I make sure potential employers find me online – not someone else with my name?

Competition for attention from recruiters might come from unlikely sources.  If every Google search turns up someone else with the same name as you – someone who is squatting on your reputational real estate – that’s bad news.  In the best-case scenario, it will stop recruiters from finding out relevant or accurate information about you.  In the worst-case scenario, potential employers might think you’re the other person.  What if he or she has been busted for something and been in the papers?  What if they’ve done time?  You need to ensure you have an edge on anybody else out there with your name.  This is where a full LinkedIn profile and a great Twitter feed can help.

On a related note, if you have a name that’s pretty common, such as “John Smith”, it may bring up lots of search results that are unrelated to you. Be mindful that employers might then narrow down the search by adding the name of your previous employer into the search bar, such as “John Smith Carillion”.  Some forward-thinking employers and recruiters now ask for your handles upfront, eliminating any possible confusion.

And if there’s nothing out there – and this is particularly true of images – it is much easier for your Google Images results to get wrecked.  If there are very few images publicly available of you online, then it’s likely that any new image that does get posted – you throwing-up while leaning over your mates’ flat’s balcony, perhaps – will show up.  The flipside to that is that there’s a better chance that useful images that get posted have a decent chance of rising to the top of the results when there’s not much competition.  And with a bit of time and effort, it’s possible to overwhelm the negative image result with new positive images.

There’s a final risk that’s worth considering, too.  We’ve heard of some employers refusing to interview candidates if they can’t find them online.  I think that’s something that’s going to be less of a problem if you’re going for a site management job or a quantity surveyor role – but if you’re a marketeer, bear it in mind. Ensure you know what comes up when you search for your name, and that everything that does come up is accurate, professional and shows you in a great light.

Audited your social media presence and ready to hit the job market? Explore our latest vacancies here.