Yes, I will Google-stalk you. Here's what you should do about it.

I was recently interviewing candidates for a position we had open. Once I reviewed someone's application, if they looked interesting to me, the very next thing I did was go to Google.

I'd type in their name. If that didn't immediately generate a response, I'd type in their name and city. I looked on LinkedIn, I looked on Facebook, I looked on Twitter. If I were more savvy I'd have checked out Instagram.

And yes, I made judgements about the person based on what they posted online. Pictures, status updates, comments. I can learn about you from what you post, and that becomes part of the data that I use to evaluate your application.

If I see a picture of you and your friends around a bonfire with red solo cups, no big deal. If I see countless pictures of you playing beer pong, falling down drunk, smoking a questionable substance, I pause. If I see a picture of you from a recent beach trip, no big deal. If I see selfie-after-selfie of your cleavage or bathroom mirror shots, I pause. If I see sweet pictures of your children, I smile. If I see weeks-worth of posts lamenting potty-training progress, I pause. If I see where you’ve posted articles about topics that are important to you, I take the opportunity to learn. If you post articles or status updates bashing people who disagree with you, I pause.

Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged

What Matthew 7:1-3 says is true: when you judge others, you should expect that the same measure will be used against you.

Two thoughts come to mind as I consider that verse:

(a) I am not social-media-spying to determine if I think someone is a good person. I am spying to determine if I think they are a good fit for a particular position. I’m not there to judge their behavior on anything other than what it communicates about their professionalism. I try very hard to use the values of the organization I represent, not my personal values.

I ask myself:

  • Does this person conduct themselves professionally in public? (any open profile is public)
  • Does this person present themselves respectfully in public?
  • Would I have any concerns if our clients saw their profiles? (They can google just as well as I can.)

(b) I recognize that I will be judged for my online profile. Anyone googling me will quickly find this blog. A future employer may-or-may-not like that I write about work-related topics, or be concerned that I’ll write about my employers (I try very hard to keep distance from that topic, there are plenty of other things to write about). Someone may not like that I am a Christian.

Those are the chances I take when I have an online presence.

(Side note: I wrote most of this blog a few months ago and it's been sitting in draft form. I was on the phone with a client a little while back and at the end of our conversation she said "new topic: did you write a book?" I chuckled and said "yes, I did! How did you hear about that?" and she said "I googled you." I'm obviously not the only person who does a little 'research!')

What chances are you taking with your online presence and how can you mitigate the risks?

  • Lock your profiles as much as you can. (This should seriously be taught in high school and college “life skills” courses. It’s a no-brainer.)
  • Remember that nothing is truly private on the internet. Look at recent hacks and threats to expose data. And it doesn’t have to be that extreme, while your profile may have some restrictions on it, your potential employer may know someone who knows you, and be able to somehow dodge some of the privacy settings for a quick peek. Consider what you post even if you think it’s ‘private.’
  • Share this post with a trusted professional friend. Ask them to take a look at your social media presence and point out anything they think is questionable. Consider their input, both in terms of deleting old posts and pictures and what you put up going forward.

ps: A note about professional versus private google-stalking

If you are doing online dating, or meeting a new friend, there's certainly something to say about the mystery of getting to know someone in person. I wouldn't google-stalk a potential date to the ends of the earth. But when I have one or two interviews to make a decision about a candidate who I'm hoping will stay with my organization for years, I want all the information I can get, as quickly as possible. 

I found this info graphic that gives some pretty specific tips. Pardon the veiled profanity, but I thought the points it made were too good to pass up. 

Google Stalk Infographic
Google Stalk Infographic