Back in June, Australian rugby league player Todd Carney lost a $3-million contract with the Cronulla Sharks because of a single photo, widely described as ‘lewd’, that will probably haunt him online forever.
His manager David Riolo said at the time that the image would remain on the internet “for his family and everyone to see for future generations”.
Type the athlete’s name into Google images and it doesn’t take too many scrolls to prove his manager right. Add the term ‘bubbling’ (which we don’t recommend) and you get a very powerful object lesson in how a single search could ruin your job prospects.
Randstad employment market analyst Steve Shepherd told The New Daily that while the Carney affair may be an “extreme” example, online presence is now “incredibly important” to recruitment, and you can bet your current or future boss is going to Google you.
“It would be naïve to think an employer isn’t checking you in some way, and the easy way to do that is to do Google and then filter from there,” Mr Shepherd said.
Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA) Victorian vice-president Rebecca Fraser agreed that a web footprint “can make or break your career”.
“We are seeing that recruiters are going online after they receive an application to ‘take a look’ before even calling candidates,” which can result in the employer deciding to never to pick up the phone, Ms Fraser said.
As an experiment, try Googling your name in quote marks (“Jackson Stiles”) to see what comes up. Use private browsing mode so that the results aren’t skewed by your search history.
Photos and images
Pictures are the “most concerning” results in Google, Ms Fraser said – a fact Todd Carney knows well.
Solution: be very careful uploading any photos to the internet, as Australians do not yet have the right to ask Google to remove photos from search results.
Comments about your boss or fellow employees
In 2010, an employee at a Good Guys store in Townsville was fired because of an expletive-ridden Facebook post about his senior work colleagues he made on his day off.
Aside from getting you fired, even bad mouthing past employers can turn off your prospective boss, Ms Fraser said.
Solution: never mention your employer negatively online.
An article mentioning your arrest, legal stoush or criminal conviction is also damaging, Mr Shepherd said.
This is particularly a hazard for those who live in small country towns, where police action and court proceedings are watched closely and reported on regularly.
And in the internet age, anyone can become a publisher, so while it’s unlikely for most people, watch out for any negative commentary on blogs, forums or social media turning up in your search results.
Solution: contact media organisations directly to see if they will agree to take down old articles that are no longer relevant.
Social media profiles
Social media is “fast replacing” the traditional job search websites, Mr Shepherd said, which means that what appears on these profiles is even more important.
• tighten your privacy settings;
• consider making one very public social media account (such as LinkedIn) and then hiding the rest of your accounts behind a harder-to-find name (such as first and middle name);
• make sure there are no discrepancies between your resume and your LinkedIn profile (which often appears in the top three results for your name in Google);
• drown out bad Google results by hash-tagging your own name in positive social media posts;
• ask Facebook and other social media sites to remove anything said about you that is untrue;
• post regularly on online forums to build positive content that highlights your level of professionalism.
Expressing strong views “not necessarily expressed by others” in blogs or online forums is also dicey because these often show up in Google, Mr Shepherd said.
“If you express a view in a social media forum, then that view is going to be found by someone,” he said.
Solution: resist the temptation to brain dump on the internet, especially around election time.
Find out who your real friends are
No matter how secretive your online posts are, it only takes one friend to share it to the world.
The privacy settings of your social media account are “actually irrelevant”, Mr Shepherd said, because the “biggest” issue is whether or not you can trust your online network.
Solution: block anyone you think might post your content publicly, and think twice before connecting with work colleagues.
Maddocks partner and employment law expert Karl Blake told The New Daily that refusing to hire an applicant on the basis of Google search results may be unlawful.
“It is not the search itself that is unlawful, yet it’s the content of the search result that might then be relied on by the employer in a hiring decision that could be,” Mr Blake said.
For example, refusing to hire someone because of their appearance in personal photos is likely to be unlawful, he said.
If you suspect you have been discriminated against or unfairly dismissed, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or seek legal advice.