Digital Footprints and Job Prospects

Applying for a new (or first) job can take time. The application process, especially for graduate programs, involves several steps: tailoring your application, psychometric tests, interviews, and participating in one or more days of online or in-person assessments.

The process may also involve an intrusive examination of your digital fingerprints. Behind the scenes, up to 80% of employers and recruitment agencies use social media content as part of their candidate fit assessment. Being open online about health issues, addiction issues, or pregnancy can hurt a candidate’s chances of success when applying for a job, as can a profile that shows polarized opinions, style choices, non-traditional life or excessive partying.

Employees can face disciplinary action or dismissal for their conduct on social media sites, even when posting outside of working hours. The inadvertent leak of sensitive information online, such as trade secrets, intellectual property and personal data of other employees, can pose a security risk to organizations and lead to loss of competitive advantage, reputation and customer confidence.

A stark illustration of these security risks comes from footage posted by two navy personnel on the pornography-sharing website OnlyFans of their intimate activities at a secure British nuclear submarine base, resulting in disciplinary action.

Our team looked at how employees’ digital footprints can harm them and their employers. Through in-depth interviews with 26 people, we found that many struggle to remember and conceptualize their entire digital footprints, or imagine how others might string them together and draw unintended conclusions.

This is important for young adults entering the workforce, who typically have an extensive digital footprint across multiple platforms dating back many years. These imprints may reflect outdated versions of the person, perhaps “tested for size” identities and opinions as they mature and figure out who they are.

Young people have told us of the peer pressure they face to comment on hot topics, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, without necessarily feeling like they want to voice their opinions publicly. Others say they regret awkwardly expressed views on politics, race and sexuality — views that seemed acceptable as teenagers but don’t read well in adult eyes.

The persistence of this online content may affect young adults in ways unknown to their parents, whose troubled pasts are likely recorded in photo albums under the bed.

Digital decluttering

Consistently cleaning up digital footprints is a task that people tend to find overwhelming. They struggle to remember what they’ve posted on multiple channels for many years and avoid decluttering, reassuring themselves that they’re boring and unworthy of others’ interest.

Some take general measures, such as deleting all or part of their social media accounts. Yet deletion is a luxury. Some of the young adults we interviewed felt compelled to be visible online through social media accounts during their job search, especially for white-collar jobs, so that potential employers could check them out.

Online visibility builds legitimacy. It presents an identity to the world – who we are, who we hang out with, our activities and our opinions. Granted, that identity may be a sanitized version of the real person, carefully constructed with an online audience in mind, but so is a resume.

There can be ongoing tensions for job seekers, between feeling they need to be visible online while protecting their own safety. One of our interviewees, whose family had applied for asylum in the UK, highlighted how torn asylum seekers can feel:

I met . . . people who were. . . run for their lives. Any information they put online digitally would be instantly searched, so they stayed away from any type of digital social media. . . . But they also face the contrast of needing to release something to progress. . . to show you otherwise people think you are not legit.

Likewise, victims of domestic violence may want to keep a low profile to avoid being found by their abusers.

Decluttering is a painful but necessary aspect of entering the workforce. Google yourself. Ask a friend of a friend to search for you online and see what they find. If you can, remove content that shows you in a bad light. If you appear in content posted by others, ask them to remove it. Detach yourself.

If all else fails, detach yourself from online connections that have marked you for the worst so the content isn’t associated with you.

If there’s too much content that can hurt your job prospects, tighten your privacy settings so potential employers can’t see it. If joining a specific social media site is tied to a past that you no longer align with, such as an OnlyFans account, untie yourself and delete your account for good measure.

Wendy Moncur is a professor of computer and information science at University of Strathclyde.

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our 20s and 30s. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or simply making friends as adults. The articles in this series explore questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent time in life.

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.