Tracking Digital Footprints

In a number of conversations in several states this summer, I have found a common thread in debriefings about hiring: the use of digital footprints to profile job candidates. Some of the hiring was for corporations, some for nonprofits, and some for universities, but all of the persons involved in the searches had noted how much more time they were spending searching out candidates’ names, backgrounds, and so forth with search engines. The primary thing that these persons looked for was “tone,” what kind of person was this candidate?

I wonder, though, at what point this becomes code for looking at a candidate’s politics, weekend party habits, or other considerations that may or may not impact the person’s performance in the defined role that the job itself entails? I can imagine that in today’s political and cultural environment, a search committee might want to make sure activist politicians on either side of the aisle don’t find low-hanging ammunition on a social-networking site. As one administrator told me years ago, it’s not people’s job performance that usually create headaches for everyone or gets them fired, it’s their behavior or demeanor. Another administrator, however, noted that hiring milquetoast faculty members isn’t typically a step in the direction of excellence.

Is this a part of the new reality of the digital landscape that we must accept and monitor ourselves? Would you recommend that candidates take advantage of digital reputation-management services such as as they work the job market?

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