You've done the prescreen phone call, sat through rounds of in-person interviews, and submitted your references. Your dream job is so close you're already shopping for the designer flats you'll buy to congratulate yourself. But there's one final factor that could derail your job prospects: The online background check.
Know Background Check Basics
Any employer who wants to get an official background report, such as a credit report or criminal background report, will need your written permission to do so, per Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules. However, there are other, more informal ways employers can conduct checks that don't require your approval in advance.
"It’s easier for employers to do a cursory review of a candidate — they can simply Google a potential employee’s name to find topline details on the person’s character," Sarah Stoddard, a community expert at job review site Glassdoor, told Refinery29.
At a time when a single employee's bad actions can thrust companies into the negative spotlight on a national level, the slightest glimmer of a warning sign can impact decision making. "Businesses are ramping up their employee screening strategies to safeguard their brands, their reputations, their existing employees, and their customer base," Stoddard says.
"Businesses are ramping up their employee screening strategies to safeguard their brands, their reputations, their existing employees, and their customer base."
Sarah Stoddard, Glassdoor Community Expert
Understand The Social Factor
Beyond the basic Google search, your social media accounts are prime sources of background information. According to job search site CareerBuilder, 70% of employers in 2017 screened candidates on social media prior to making a hiring decision. While you probably heard warnings when you were graduating from college (and helpful advice to ditch the profile photo full of red solo cups while job hunting), there are other factors — such as captions with swears and controversial news content — that can play into the image a potential employer forms about you.
"Unfortunately, this is not a complete picture of an employee in their work-life and it can create unintentional bias that should not be used in employment decisions," Stoddard says.
Unfair as that unintentional bias may be, you'll have a hard, if impossible time, countering it once it's formed. Luckily, there are steps you can take to find out what the potential red flags are ahead of time, and ensure the representation of yourself online is an accurate one. There are all sorts of free background checks you can perform, though it's important to note that many of the sites offering them (BackgroundChecks.com; CheckPeople.com) focus on arrest records, criminal records, and financial information, rather than social media accounts and basics that show up in a Google search. (If you want to remove yourself from from an online background check registry, head here to find out how).
Take Stock Of Your Accounts
A little common sense will go a long way when considering whether or not something is appropriate on social media. Of course, if you'd prefer potential employers not see your posts at all, consider setting your accounts to private. To make a Facebook profile harder to find, think about changing your name, a path often taken by those applying to medical or law school.
For a deeper dive into your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter profiles, as well as the Google search results for your name, try a reputation management site like BrandYourself. After creating an account, you can connect your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social accounts. The resulting report will give you a "reputation score" that is based on the number of images the site's artificial intelligence flags as potential warning signs. The basic report is free, but if you want to see each of your offending posts, you'll need to upgrade to a Premium account ($99/year).
The reputation score isn't spot on. For example, since the artificial intelligence is trained to pick up on alcohol, a photo of you with a cocktail in a bar would likely be flagged. However, BrandYourself says it does this on purpose.
"Our AI can seem a bit aggressive in flagging potential issues, but that's intended to allow the user to make a determination as to whether it could be interpreted as a potential issue," Patrick Ambron, BrandYourself's co-founder and CEO, told Refinery29.com. "Some businesses will take a more nuanced approach, taking context into consideration, but for positions that have hundreds or thousands of applicants, like an entry-level job, the candidate may not get that far. Even posts that are entirely innocuous in context — for example, someone posting about 'food porn' — will likely be flagged, and if there are enough flags, or if employers have certain no-go categories, like 'porn', it could exclude a candidate from ever being looked at by someone in HR."
If a hiring manager does ask you about a post, honesty is always the best policy, Stoddard says. Even better, preempt any concerns by addressing it first. Though, moving forward, you may want to think twice before posting a potentially inflammatory tweet or Instagram caption. If in doubt, ask WWOD — "what would Oprah do?"