The Social Media Metric: How Employers Are Digging Further Into Our Online Lives

If you don't have anything nice to post, don't post anything at all.

By , Columnist

Now’s the time to pat yourself on the back if you have a history of online discretion, because social networking material up to seven years old may be a factor in your next job search.

We’ve been talking for a couple of years now about the importance of keeping your social media nose clean. Now, it’s more important than ever, as employers are beginning to dig further and further back in our online interactions to find hints that potential new hires are unfit.

Thanks to the economic downturn, the job market has gone from tough to cutthroat, so it’s no surprise that recruiters need another set of metrics to apply to the stacks of resumes in their inboxes. So companies are hiring specialized investigative firms that look into applicants publicly-documented pasts (no illegality involved) to compile dossiers of the pros and cons of would-be employees’ previous lives and off-the-clock activities.

What’s surprising is where on the web most of this content comes from. According to a New York Times article on the subject, it’s not just a matter of overzealous HR staffers requiring your Facebook login info. In fact, the NYT says,

“Less than a third of the data [used in these searches] comes from such major social platforms as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace . . . [and] much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep Web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller social sites, like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist.”

It’s important to know that factors like age, marital status, gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation remain off-limits as determinants. Still, if you’re looking for ways to avoid the list of cons being longer than the pros in your hypothetical dossier, read on:

-Express yourself carefully. No matter your feelings, avoid racially-charged rhetoric, sexist arguments, ethnic slurs, or otherwise hateful language.

-Filter your photos. Watch out for pictures of you and illicit paraphernalia, you being trashed, you being less-than-clothed, etc.

-Choose your friends wisely. Carefully evaluate the groups and fan pages you subscribe to. Think of McCarthyism - if you knew a commie, then you were a commie. If you belong to a less-than-optimal group, you’ll be considered guilty by association.

-Just don’t be stupid. You know, keep your drug buys offline, un-tag shots of you brazenly waving firearms like a psychopath, and seriously, keep your sex tapes in a lockbox under your bed (not online!).

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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