Online preparations for the big job hunt


By Charlotte Clarke

Companies are increasingly including platforms such as LinkedIn in their hiring process, and students are updating their profiles accordingly. However, it can be difficult to manage this kind of presence effectively. In the past month two developments have underlined the importance of online privacy. In Europe, Google is fielding thousands of takedown requests after Europeans won the “right to be forgotten”. In the US, data brokers – companies that scour the internet to compile information about individuals which they then sell on – are coming under scrutiny.

John Delaney, a partner in the New York office of law firm Morrison & Foerster and founder of the newsletter Socially Aware, shares his advice.

How important is it to be socially aware when searching for a job?

Most companies now use social media channels to get the word out regarding new openings. And, once uploaded to a social media platform such as LinkedIn or Twitter, news of a job opening can go viral.

Social media platforms such as LinkedIn also allow people to leverage their contacts to help get a foot in the door with a potential employer.

That said, there is a dark side to social media for job hunters. A recent survey revealed that six out of 10 HR managers looked at job applicants’ Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

What precautions would you recommend business school students take when applying for a job?

Before applying for positions, students should review their social media accounts and clean up anything that could come back to haunt them. Employers want employees who maintain a professional image online. Check the security settings for your social media accounts. The default privacy settings are rarely the most protective. Ideally, you will want to select the most protective settings for personal social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

Be careful with future posts. Also, do not assume that one-to-one communication channels on social media platforms are private.

Can students control the information collected about them online, for example by data brokers?

In the US, we have a patchwork system for protecting privacy, rather than the comprehensive systems adopted in Europe and elsewhere. US privacy laws often focus on protection against marketing uses of one’s personal information, less on other types of uses. As a result, it is particularly important in the US that business school students – indeed, all individuals – seek to exercise control over what personal information they make available on social media platforms and other forums where such information can be harvested and used. At a minimum, students should think twice about sharing any sensitive personal information – for example, information regarding medical conditions, finances, or illegal or unprofessional behaviour.

Typically, if your posts are publicly available, the platform operator will not be responsible for any third party’s access to or use of such posts.

The applicable privacy settings should indicate to what extent one’s personal information and posts will be accessible outside one’s circle of friends.

What can students do if they are not happy with how their online data are being used?

The typical social media platform privacy policy will provide an email address allowing a user to contact their platform provider with concerns.

Regardless of one’s country of residence, a social media site should not be collecting, using or disclosing personal information in violation of its own privacy policy. However, a site may update its privacy policy from time to time. In Europe you might be able to file a takedown request.

The best approach is, however, to think before you post.

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