There’s an old maxim (well, old by internet standards) that goes, “Never write anything in an email that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in front of a judge or your grandmother.” This is generally good advice for those in the work world; advice, it would seem, the Ontario Liberals should probably have heeded in the recent gas plant cancellation scandal. But I digress.

You need to watch your p’s and q’s when using an employer’s IT systems like email or when surfing the web from a company-owned computer. Nearly every employer keeps some sort of record of these activities. You wouldn’t want to lose your job over a profanely worded email or because of visiting a website that is NSFW.

And, of course, your online habits have a big effect on your chances of getting a job.

Joachim Ravoth, a Digital Career Consultant and Principal at JR Marketing, points to market research conducted by social network monitoring company Reppler, which illustrates the degree to which recruiters are taking an interest in the online lives of potential hires. Back in 2011, when the study was conducted, a whopping 91% of the 300 respondents said they use social networking sites to screen prospective employees.

A more recent study by Career Builder looking at the hiring practices in the healthcare industry found numbers that weren’t quite so high but that ware still worth considering.

Many of these employers look at social network profiles before they book interviews. But don’t think that just because you’ve scored a face-to-face with the hiring manager you’re in the clear — more than half of these recruiters don’t start the combing of social data until after that point in the hiring process.

Regardless when or where recruiters look at you online, make no mistake, they are paying close attention to what they see and they won’t hesitate to throw your application in the recycling bin if your social activity rubs them the wrong way. Sixty-nine per cent of the Reppler respondents said they rejected candidates because of what they saw on a social networking site.

By now you’re probably rapidly running through all of your recent social activity in your head, wondering if you’ve made a terrible, career-limiting tweet or status update. That’s good, because from now on, you need to be looking at all of your online behaviour through that lens. But to help you figure out where the real landmines are, here’s the list of the top reasons healthcare employers gave for not hiring someone based on their social profile:

    • Candidate posted info about them drinking or using drugs (49 per cent)
    • Candidate posted provocative/inappropriate photos/info (45 per cent)
    • Candidate’s screen name was unprofessional (29 per cent)
    • Candidate bad mouthed previous employer (26 per cent)
    • Candidate made discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc. (23 per cent)
    • Candidate lied about qualifications (21 per cent)
    • Candidate was linked to criminal behavior (21 per cent)
    • Candidate had poor communication skills (17 per cent)

The influence of online social behaviour on hiring decisions is so strong that only 7% of the Reppler respondents claimed they had never rejected a candidate because of info found on a social networking site.

Ravoth thinks job-seekers should also think critically about the quality of their LinkedIn profiles. He cites the following gotchas as areas of top concern:

    • Having no photo, a “selfie” photo or an unprofessional photo
    • Maintaining your previous job title as your LinkedIn headline for longer than a week or two after leaving
    • Being too wordy in your profile, especially in the Summary section
    • Simply cutting and pasting your printed resume into your profile

He also points out that it’s worth taking the time to make your profile as mobile-friendly as possible. Surprisingly, 50% of all LinkedIn searches are being conducted on mobile devices.

Unfortunately, even if you’re squeaky-clean, some employers might discriminate based on things that have nothing to do with the job, like your political affiliations and religion. Carnegie Mellon researchers discovered that U.S. job seekers who could be positively identified as Muslim by recruiters via social media received far fewer callbacks than those who were identified as Christian, a bias that was strongest in politically conservative states.

Does this mean you need to hide all of your religious and political views, or even your favourite TV shows, for fear that someone will hold them against you? No. Nor should you. It’s illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race or religion in Canada. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they don’t – and you’d usually be hard-pressed to prove anything. Just be aware that once a potential employer starts to look at your online profile, they’re looking at all of it.

So, my fellow job-seeking friends, is your online activity ready to be inspected by a judge, an employer or even—dare we say it— your grandmother?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments.


Simon_Cohen.jpgSimon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced Consumer Tech voices. He created, an award-winning Canadian technology blog which had an audience of over 500,000 monthly visitors. He has appeared as a guest numerous times on national TV and radio programmes, including Canada AM, Sync Up (a weekly segment on CTV News Channel) and App Central. He is currently an independent writer and editor contributing to various publications, but you can always find his thoughts and musings on his blog at