Sponsored by The Social Index.
Unfortunately there is very little anyone can do to get rid of their digital footprint online. It includes the websites you’ve visited, the emails you’ve sent and the information you’ve submitted online.
While you might recoil in horror at the thought that someone, somewhere can see what you’ve been up to online, there are times when this can actually go in your favour.
Fiona McLean is a seasoned HR practitioner with experience from both the UK and Australia. She is also the founder of The Social Index, a service that analyses the digital footprint of job applicants in a very transparent way.
Have a listen to our chat below, keep reading for a summary and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Why is analyzing a candidate’s social footprint important?
From a company perspective, you’re looking at a culture fit. It’s the absolute goal in any recruitment process to find that candidate who fits your culture because that person is very likely to be more productive, get on better with most of your team, and be able to work very well with clients, which drives revenue. The other side of that is, they have the potential for a long-term career. What you get with analyzing someone’s social footprint is another data set for the interview. You’ve got a CV, you’ve done a couple of interviews, but there’s still an area of grey; how will they fit? What are they like? How will they respond to change? What sort of interests do they have? Will they fit with our client needs or our team and company culture? That’s where social media’s fantastic. It gives you evidence of all of that. It does it in a way (and certainly with the platform we’ve designed) that protects someone’s privacy because we only look at what’s in the public domain, but put it in context of the workplace.
How does analyzing a candidate’s footprint impact employer brand?
We’ve found there are searches on both the candidate’s side and the company’s side. My concern is that they’re unstructured, and some companies are really struggling with how to find out more about a candidate that’s relevant without opening themselves up to a whole range of discriminatory claims and biased decision-making because you’re seeing maybe one or two comments out of context. We’ve taken away that nervousness about what do you know about me? How can I trust that you’ve done a good and effective due diligence review of me? And the candidate is better prepared for that interview too because you’ve both got the same information. So, we manage the privacy elements. We manage the areas that are unrelated for work and we filter out things that just don’t matter. If you’re going to the beach every weekend and you’re an accountant, that’s really not going to matter too much to whether you could do your job Monday to Friday well. However, if you’re in Australia and you’re working for a surf company and you go to the beach every weekend, that’s a very powerful connection to the culture of that organization so they may well filter that in. We also only do it once the interview process has started, and there’s already been a relationship established.
Can’t HR just run their own Google searches?
One of the first a major pitfall of running your own Google search is that you’ve got to check that the person doing the search is actually skilled in understanding what’s relevant for the role, that they’re going beyond page two of Google, and that they’re able to understand how to get through and understand a footprint. How does someone’s Facebook profile line up with their LinkedIn profile, and line up with their CV. That’s quite a complex role, which could be a three to four day piece of research work if you do it properly.
So, there are lots of risks in doing that. Then you’ve got someone looking at it through the lens of, “Well, I might be in my twenties and I’m looking at candidates in their forties.” So, there’s a life experience gap there. Or vice-versa. They may never have had any sales experience. So, they’re missing some of the nuances of a sales person’s network or a sales person’s extroverted style on social media, which isn’t a massive plus in some roles where they’re doing a lot of client entertainment. But if the person reviewing them isn’t seeing it through that lens, you could end up missing on a great candidate. And there’s a lot of really great stuff deeper and wider once you’ve got consent to actually go further. So, I think the risks of doing a Google search are now much greater with the volume of data that’s out there than a couple of years ago.
What happens after I connect and verify my accounts?
We take between 24 to 48 hours just to check all the announcers are working. We want to make sure someone’s getting the best interview at the end of it. That’s really a form of us verifying your identity to make sure we’re actually looking at you as the individual. So when we do a wider Google search we can say to you and a potential company, “This is absolutely the right candidate, and this is the key assets and digital strength of their footprint”. We can be assured that this is the right person for the role, and the right person we’re reviewing. That’s one of the challenges when you do a Google search. How do you know that this is actually the person you’re looking at? We do a bit of analysis to make sure that it’s the right person. We can identify where there might be similar names and see other people onsite with both the candidate and the company. These are other people who look the same but we can absolutely assure you they’re not in any way associated with the report we’re doing. And then after that, you get an infographic report that breaks down your digital footprint into where you spend your time on social media, your time that you post and when you post. For a lot of communications, recruitment, and sales roles, you’d be online nine to five. And that’s a real plus. If you’re an auditor or an accountant or a lawyer, potentially you’re not online during those times. So, we tend to see different patterns of engagement. Then we look at your career timeline and really sort of start to celebrate and showcase where you’ve been active online in publishing, where you’ve been active in being promoted, where that’s visible, language skills, international experience, wider interests. And really do a really strong showcasing of the skills that you’re talking about online so that on one page, a candidate and a company can be really prepared for that interview and pick out the stuff that really matters rather than trying to read a three page CV.
What happens when you can’t identify an individual online?
It hasn’t happened often but it does seem to be where we’ve had some mixed results on profiles. Those who have been under 35 generally have a fairly strong footprint on a number of platforms. They’ve grown up with it and are very comfortable with it. But those over 35, it’s very role dependent; what their industry and role has driven. It can be really driven by potentially some of the regulations in those industries and potentially just the style of the individual getting comfortable with those platforms. So, where we do the report, we’ve obviously already verified through the email link and a mobile number that it’s them. If they then don’t have a footprint on any of those platforms, we can verify that both by them saying, “Here’s the link. I don’t have an account. I don’t have a profile on those pages.” That’s fine. And second, we do a secondary search to make sure that there is any other publications that might be out there, any other links of people who might have liked a photo of them online can pop up as well. So, that can see the extent of where they might be present online, but it’s very much a limited outcome. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for some roles and some industries as some areas really do say you can’t be online in certain platforms. But, increasingly, for senior executives to not have a footprint on at least one place, for example LinkedIn, is becoming problematic in terms of you being the face and representation of the brand of the organization.
What is the general feeling of candidates being scrutinized on social?
It’s been positive. There’s been quite rightly questions around privacy. The biggest question we get is, “I keep my activities online separate”. So, for example, my LinkedIn is all for professional connections, Facebook’s private. Then the next question is, “Well, when you look at your Facebook network, are there any work colleagues on there?” And they said, “Of course. I’m friends with my boss. I’m friends with my team. We go out socially.” And that happens across the major markets that I’ve worked in and we’re working in now. What we find is people treat those connections differently, but they are a mix of work and professional. Once we show them that it’s an infographic report, where the data’s put into context for what’s needed in the workplace, that privacy issue goes away and we actually find them very engaged. It actually becomes a really nice coaching tool for them to think about and adapt to. I don’t have to worry about privacy because it’s captured in our third-party relationship between them and the organization.
Why invest in a product that analyzes digital footprint?
Your career is your biggest asset. It is the source of financial security. It gives you a sense of purpose. So, understanding how you present yourself gives you more choices, and opportunity to connect with people. There’s fantastic research actually around how you build your network and having a wider network and creating new experiences. It’s particularly important at this time as workplaces are changing. The more varied the network is, the more opportunity you have to navigate that really well. So, understanding that in the first instance is a fantastic way to start building and planning your career. Even if it’s only simply saying ‘I’m really comfortable where I am now and this is all I need to do’. But for those who are also thinking I want to build a career that let’s me retire when I’m 42 or I want to go and be the CEO, you need to start thinking about that and actually understanding how you can do that. Without investment of an executive coach, or having to work in large corporates, this is a single tool that can help you do that. From a company side branch, it all comes to a lining an individual’s reputation to your company brand. And when that works, it’s fantastic. You’ll attract more people into your organization. You’ve got motivated and engaged employees who are more productive. But you can also know that you’ve got the right fit to help that person realize some of those career aspirations as well.