Examining the increasing importance of our digital footprint, Nicole Casey looks at the picture this generation is painting of themselves online and how it affects their chances of securing employment
Your suit is pressed, shoes are shined, and you’ve spent hours on the internet perusing possible questions that could be thrown your way. Yes, it’s everyone’s go-to technique for interview preparation.
You could be completely confident that you’ve prepared every possible answer to every conceivable interview question, but is it enough? The thing that may be hindering you getting that job might not be your confidence, or preparedness, but rather than cheeky snap of you on the floor of Coppers that’s making its way around the internet.
Despite very much feeling at home on the internet, our generation are the guinea pigs of social media; with the rulebook of internet etiquette being constantly amended based on our mistakes. Sure, we know our cookies from our bisuits, but we’re still highly unaware of our digital footprint and the effects it can have on our everyday life.
When something appears online, be it a picture, comment, or even a link to a YouTube video, it’s forever tethered to us. It doesn’t matter how quick you manage to untag yourself or press delete, nothing ever truly disappears.
Our online presence is starting to overshadow our true identity, especially when it comes to applying for jobs. It is very easy to spend hours completing an application form, perfecting and correcting every small detail about yourself so it looks good to anyone on the outside looking in. Students especially are experts at turning something as simple as a four-hour stint as a peer mentor into an entire paragraph on charitable endeavours. Unfortunately, we’re not putting as much time and effort into perfecting our online personas.
More and more companies are putting prospective employees to the online test. Simply pop a name into Google and you can find anything and everything you need to form a biased opinion. Social networking and engaging with others online has become a major facet in the lives of most people, especially students, but the darker side of social media is only recently coming to light.
In the past, communicating and participating online was seen as a harmless pastime. However, it is only now that people are realising how to harness and manipulate the power of the internet. Bullying has taken on a new cyber form, increasing youth suicide dramatically. Gambling addicts are now able to get a quick fix on the internet through online poker and other such sites, and of course, companies can now do an online search of any potential employees. But is this fair?
Social media profiles were developed to provide people an online outlet to express their personality, creativity, and their interests. But now it seems that your online profile page should be as nondescript and fine-tuned as your job applications.
Julie Boyle, a final year Commerce student, disagrees with companies checking out prospective employees through the internet. “It’s not right. That picture of you having a drink on holidays could be what stops you getting a job. Just because someone has complete control over their profile and shows no pictures of anything even remotely interesting, doesn’t mean they’re better suited for the job than you are. They’re just better at portraying themselves online.”
While companies in Ireland may be checking potential employees’ digital footprints before an interview, firms in the UK have taken this a step further, with some actually asking candidates to show their Facebook profile pages at the interview.
Practices such as this may be a denial of human rights, but speaking at a conference for the State’s Education and Training Boards, Bernadette John, a lecturer in digital professionalism at King’s College London, believes that many interview candidates did not know how to “bat the request back,” without feeling they had lost their shot at securing the job.
Arts student, James Harper, believes the practice of checking social media profiles doesn’t really happen, “It’s a smokescreen. Over the summer, I interned in a large firm, and I was told that they never really put anyone’s name through Google, but that they liked people to think it happened.”
But students have no true way of knowing whether they are being checked up on by companies, and some have started taking drastic measures to prevent being found.
Boyle explains, “When I was applying for jobs, I spent hours untagging myself from pictures. Once you start, you get a bit paranoid that anything could be construed as bad. I changed my surname to the Irish version as well.”
For some, it’s easiest to just deactivate your social media accounts for the duration of the job application process. “I considered it,” says Boyle, “But I needed Facebook to communicate with my classmates about group assignments. It just wasn’t a viable option.”
John believes students, and even people already in the workforce, are unaware of the impact their digital footprint can have. Comments about your place of employment, or even strong political opinions, can be traced back to you for many years. Students don’t understand that the “actions they are taking now are making themselves unemployable in the future.”
Susan O’Riordan, Research & Development Officer for the Public Appointments Service, believes, “Standards are certainly higher now. People are expected to work harder for less pay and fewer benefits. But a good work ethic, education, and adding value to a company will always be considered desirable by an employer.”
As the internet and social media continue to grow, our online persona will continue to increase in importance as well. It may very well be that everyone will need to fine-tune their Facebook page just like we do their curriculum vitae’s. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a bad thing. If you wouldn’t do or say something in public, why should online be any different?