If you’re in the hunt for new employment, I strongly recommend that you do your own “background check” before you start that search. In other words, act like a potential employer and put together a profile of yourself. Or, for fun, have a (trusted) friend do it.
This exercise is enormously helpful in seeing what you’ll need to shore up, image-wise, before you begin applying for real positions. What will employers see that says you’re the ideal candidate? Or, that you’re a high-risk hire? Once you know the answer to these questions, you can take steps to either capitalize on your positive, publicly-available personna or, at least, adapt your resume and interview tactics to anticipate concerns. You can also probably fine-tune some of the online information, such as LinkedIn or Facebook profiles, to ensure what you’re projecting is what you intend. Remember – they’re going to be looking at a complete portrait of you. And it’s not just what you tell them. It’s what they’re going to find out from any of a dozen sources. Be sure your story fits.
The old days, where we smugly controlled the flow of information about ourselves with the quaint resume closer, “References Available On Request,” are gone for good.
Some quick tips:
- Be as aggressive about finding the “real you” as that HR department or hiring committee is going to be. Their own reputation may be at risk if they fail to discover something important about you, and they’re usually good at what they do. So don’t do a fluff search. Dig deep.
- Consider hiring a professional background checking company, or a few of them, to run searches on you. There are tons online. Use search terms like “employee background checks” to find the companies that you feel are legitimate and thorough. Or have a reliable friend do it.
- Run Google searches of your name and any variation you’ve used. Use terms that might describe you, to see if there are online references to you that might not use your full name. Don’t stop after the first ten results. Go through the results pages thoroughly.
- Run Google searches of all the email addresses and screen names you’ve ever used, or of favorite online nicknames you’ve used that might identify you without a whole lot of detective work.
- Run searches on the place where you work, especially if you work for a local employer. Consider running searches of your coworkers’ names, to see if anything about them might inadvertently lead to you.
- Consider paying a company like BadReferences.com to do reference inquiries of former employers, or even of current employers (as long as an incoming random reference inquiry won’t cost you your job). Companies like BadReferences.com will provide you a complete transcript of the reference-checking call. This will provide valuable insights into the pluses and minuses that will be shared with real prospective employers.
- If you’re applying for a job where your credit score or a criminal background are potentially disqualifying, get copies of your credit reports and see what your score is. Correct inaccuracies in the report. Consider expunging, or having sealed, criminal histories. This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a call to an attorney to find out whether it can be done.
- Look closely at your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to see if the profiles need updating or editing, to project a current and positive image. Use the archive features of online search engines to see if older versions of your profiles are available. Consider whether your profiles disclose characteristics employers are not permitted to, but might, use in hiring decisions.
- Consider hiring a company like Reputation.com, which monitors online postings about you. It also claims it can bury derogatory search results about you. I don’t know enough about their tactics to vouch for them, but they claim to help you protect your reputation against unfair attacks, and to be able to take steps to stop or minimize them.
- Consider whether your friends and/or family have posted things about you online. These may come up in job searches as well. Ask them to remove information you feel will hurt your chances for employment.
- At a minimum, use Google to find for-profit background-checking services and at least look at the categories of data they offer to collect. If nothing else, you will at least know what the potential universe of data is that might be in the hands of your interviewers.
- Assume your future employer is using your resume, cover letter and online profiles to develop keyword searches about you.
I have had many HR chiefs tell me they use the web, and background-checking services, on a regular basis to screen out candidates. So it makes sense to do some hardcore vetting of your own background to see what employers will see. It makes sense to manage your reputation in a positive way, and to ensure that this important task isn’t left to others.