Did you know that Thursday January 28 was Data Privacy Day, an annual event celebrated in the United States, Canada, the UK and 26 other European countries?
No, I didn’t either. Its aim is to raise awareness for consumers around privacy issues.
One of the sponsors of Data Privacy Day is Microsoft who commissioned research in France, Germany, the UK and the USA to find out how people manage the information they and others place on the internet.
The research was conducted in December 2009 by market research firm Cross-Tab. The overall results are fascinating, with some terrific insight into people’s behaviours online and their concerns (summarized at the end of this post). What’s really interesting to me, though, are the metrics about the effects online behaviours unquestionably have on the attitudes and actions of recruiters – individuals who make hiring decisions – in a society in which behaviour norms and standards are rapidly evolving and where, it seems, anything goes online as well as offline.
[...] Because the private actions of employees can now embarrass companies in ways that make headlines and spread around the online world in minutes, hiring processes have changed to include vetting all behavior, not just how someone performs on the job. Concerns about lifestyle, inappropriate comments, and unsuitable photos and videos top the list of reasons that those surveyed give for rejecting a candidate. But they also rejected applicants because of inappropriate comments by friends, family, and colleagues, or based on membership in certain groups.
So if ever you thought that those pics, videos and stories on Facebook about those weekend parties you do, or how you lived life at Uni, are just a huge laugh and great fun for your social networking friends to see, just check this chart:
If you’re job hunting, it’s less of a problem if you’re French but a major one if you’re American.
Checking people out online and gaining insight into their behaviours is a clear trend and will become more common, according to the research, although not uniformly so in the four major countries surveyed.
Still, a definite trend nevertheless.
What if a recruiter finds information about you online that isn’t true? Here’s the reality:
[...] Nearly 90% of US recruiters and HR professionals surveyed say they are somewhat to very concerned that the online reputational information they discover may be inaccurate. An equal number claim they take steps to corroborate its authenticity. (The research did not investigate what steps they take to validate the authenticity of the information they find.) In France, 47% of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed are concerned with information accuracy, and even more (50%) say they take steps to verify it. Recruiters and HR professionals surveyed in the UK and Germany are not as likely to check information accuracy. In the UK, 80% of these professionals said they are concerned with the veracity of the data, yet only 68% say they take steps to check it. And though 79% of recruiters and HR professionals in Germany express concern, only 39% say they attempt to verify the data.
In other words, assume that what people (recruiters) see about you online, it’s likely that’s what they’ll believe about you. The bottom line for you: good online reputations matter to recruiters and HR professionals.
A clear message, then: take care of your reputation online.
I think the best summing-up of everything presented in Cross-Tab’s research are the responses to this question asked of the people Cross-Tab surveyed: “In the last six months, which of the following steps (if any) have you taken to protect your online reputation?”
Interesting results, summarized nicely in this chart (click the image, or here, to see it in full size):
Overall, the research paints a thought-provoking picture, summarized here from the survey’s executive summary:
- The recruiters and HR professionals surveyed are not only checking online sources to learn about potential candidates, but they also report that their companies have made online screening a formal requirement of the hiring process.
- Of US recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 70% say they have rejected candidates based on information they found online. Though not as frequently, respondents from the UK and Germany report the same trend.
- Recruiters and HR professionals surveyed report being very or somewhat concerned about the authenticity of the content they find.
- In all countries, recruiters and HR professionals say they believe the use of online reputational information will significantly increase over the next five years.
- Positive online reputations matter. Among US recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 85% say that positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their decisions to a great extent.
- Consumers surveyed have mixed opinions about the appropriateness of recruiters and HR professionals examining some types of online content. Most find it reasonable that recruiters and HR professionals check information on professional sites. There is greater concern, however, about recruiter scrutiny of photos, videos, and other personal content including blogs, personal social network pages, organizations they are affiliated with, financial information, and the like.
- Consumers surveyed use a variety of methods to monitor and manage the information posted about them online. Most notably, they use multiple personas, search for information about themselves, adjust privacy settings, and refrain from posting content that they believe could damage their reputation.
- Though most consumers surveyed do manage their reputation at least to some extent, there are a significant percentage of respondents (between 30% and 35% depending on nationality) who don’t feel their online reputation affects either their personal or professional life. Consequently, they are not taking steps to manage their reputations.
- Online Reputation in a Connected World (PDF) – research report executive summary.
- Data Privacy Day: Perceptions study Consumers & HR/Recruiters (PowerPoint presentation) – detailed findings with lots of charts in 87-slide deck.
- Take charge of your online reputation – useful tips from Microsoft on taking care of your reputation online.