Turning the Tables: Digging Dirt on Employers

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Dirt Digging on Employers

You just hung up the phone. You’re sweating. Your mouth is dry. Your heart is racing. You just had your first ever phone interview. It was for an internship with a company that you’re really excited about. You don’t know what to do with your nervous energy, so you start surfing the web looking for information about the company and your interviewer. It’s like checking the answers immediately after an exam. You need affirmation that you didn’t completely blow it. You Google your interviewer’s name. You find his blog. You start reading. You see a link to his Twitter account. You click through. You see a reference to your just completed interview.

Ok, one interview down. 1-10, I would give this guy a 6. :(

Being a 6 sucks, but the sad smiley is a kick in the groin. You blew it. Talk about immediate feedback. At first you’re sad, but then you get a little mad. Who the hell is this guy to talk about my interview in public?

Now It’s Your Turn to Screw Up

Let’s try another situation. You’ve done 8 phone interviews this week, and it’s only Wednesday. You’re firing on all cylinders. You’ve done your research, and you’ve got great answers to every question. You’re likable and even funny – not too funny, but just the right amount of funny for a job interview. In fact, you’re a little underwhelmed by your interviewer’s ability to comprehend your amazing answers. He seems kind of dumb, actually. You hang up the phone, put your feet up on your desk and relax. You log in to Facebook and leave a snarky comment about your interviewer.

Booyah! Dominated that interview. He’ll be working for me in 2 years.

You failed to remember that when you were a freshman, your interviewer was a senior at your college. You took a class together and somehow ended up Facebook friends. You have no idea, but he just saw your Facebook status. You’re not getting the job.

News Flash: Employers Use Internet to Dig Dirt on Candidates

Duh! Old news. So what? You get it, but do you know how widespread this activity is and how often it results in someone’s not getting a job?

Back in 2006 CareerBuilder (hey, they’re useful for something) did a survey of hiring managers on how much they use the Internet to dig dirt on candidates. At the time of the survery, more than a quarter of employers were at the very least Googling candidates. More than half of the respondents said that this led to not hiring the person they researched (they don’t say if they didn’t hire 50% of candidates or if 50% of managers didn’t hire at least one person based on this research). It’s been a year and a half since this study was published, and it can be guaranteed that the number of employers who are using the Internet to dig up dirt on candidates has only increased. Well, two can play at this game.

Time to Turn the Tables

Every article that we’ve read and every piece of advice that we’ve heard about employers and online dirt digging has taken the perspective that employers are in the position of power – that they’re the ones who call the shots. If you’ve read much of what we’ve written on One Day, One Job, you know that we dispute that. Even if you’re a new graduate, you get to choose your employer (unless you’re drafted by a professional sports team). Those who are smart, accomplished, and know how to present themselves can take control of the hiring process. If you’re going to be choosy about where you work, then you need to learn how to do some dirt digging – ahem, research – yourself.

That first story that we told you – it really happened. Well, part of it did. The part where the interviewer posted about the interviewee on his Twitter account. We’re not going to link to the profile, because we don’t want to ruin the guy’s reputation. He had a lapse of judgment – he’s not a bad guy; however, this is just one example of information that you can find online that will make you reconsider which companies you want to work for. If high level executives are posting this kind of information freely for the world to see, just imagine what they might be trying to hide.

Don’t Dig Yourself Too Deep

With great research skills come responsibility. If you’re a good searcher, you’re going to find some interesting stuff. You need to know what to do with it. This article may be about digging dirt, but it doesn’t have to be a completely negative thing. The same tactics will also turn up lots of positive information, so don’t overlook the good stuff.

Blackmail Is Stupid

Don’t do it. It won’t get you a job, and it might even get you in legal trouble. If you find something incriminating about a company or an employee of a company, let it be part of your decision making process, but don’t try to use it for leverage. Just walk away.

Don’t Be a Blabbermouth

If you do find something particularly juicy, it’s ok to tell other people, but use your best judgment. Nobody wants to be put under the same scrutiny as Britney Spears. If you’re going to ruin someone’s reputation, put yourself in the person’s shoes for a minute before you do it. Does it really matter that you found pictures of your interviewer cross-dressing? Maybe to you, but do you really need to embarrass the guy? Rescind your application (if you don’t feel comfortable working with someone who has pictures of them cross-dressing online) and move on.

Beware of Mistaken Identity

Be sure to avoid mix ups. My legal name is William Franzen. Googling it will give you stuff on me, but it will also turn up information on a sex offender with the same name. It’s pretty obvious that it’s not me if you read the article, but imagine an employer (or potential employee) who just stops after seeing that come up first in Google.

Use the Sniff Test

The Internet is full of inaccuracies. Whether what you come across is based on outright lies, jokes, or misunderstandings, you need to use your judgment to determine what is true and what isn’t. The Internet is like a big game of telephone with a lot of people trying to sabotage the message at the same time, so use your BS-meter.

Getting Dirty

If you’re going to be digging for dirt, you need to know what to look for. Some of this is blatantly obvious, and other stuff you probably would scroll right past. Read the list, and if you have any additions, leave them in the comments section.

Whom You Should Research
  • The company
  • Their executive team
  • Your interviewer(s)
  • Potential co-workers
  • Any employees at the company
  • People at competing companies

What You Should Look For
  • Personal commentary
  • Professional commentary
  • Social network profiles
  • Photos
  • Customer rants
  • Employee rants
  • The news
  • Previous employment history
  • Company financial conditions
  • Quotes in interviews

There are many more, but that’s enough to get you started.

Where to Look

You’ve probably used some of these tactics to “research” people you’ve met at parties or in class, but others will probably be new to you. You need to put yourself in other people’s shoes to be truly effective at digging up dirt. For instance, if you’re looking for employee rants, then you need to think like a disgruntled employee.

Search Engines

Google is the only one that you really need, unless you’re looking for something really specific that might be better found on a niche vertical search engine. We’ve already written all the tips you need for being a great Google searcher, so give that a look and apply it to dirt digging.

Social Networks

Facebook and MySpace are great research tools, but they’re “walled gardens.” If you are a friend of the person whom you’re researching, you’re all set. If you’re not, then you’ll need to get sneaky (you know that employers do this) or go another route. LinkedIn is a little more open, but a lot less juicy. It might give you some good leads, but it probably won’t tell you all that much.

There are also a lot of niche social networks like the ones on Ning. These can be really interesting resources, as they often have a professional topic.

Blogs

If your research target is a blogger, then you have it easy. Blogs aren’t only full of information, but they also are great for getting new ideas on where to dig dirt and what to look for.

Other people’s blogs can also be helpful. If there’s something really juicy out there, it may have already been blogged about by a site like IvyGate. Industry blogs also cover a lot of things that will be relevant to your employment decision, and sites like the Consumerist cover the way companies treat customers. Don’t forget to look out for comments on blogs too. The information in these can be of very low quality, but it can also be the most damning.

Use Google Blog Search and Technorati to find the most up to date information.

Micro-Blogs

Things like Facebook statuses, away messages, and Twitter can be the most boring and the most exciting. Day to day tasks are boring, but people often don’t think very critically about what they choose to post in these venues. That leaves the door open for people to post things that they shouldn’t.

You can use Tweetscan to search Twitter for relevant keywords. Finding someone’s AIM screen name can be difficult, but once you do, you can see their away messages and they won’t even know it. Facebook statuses are a little harder to monitor, but that makes them all the more valuable.

Message Boards

There are plenty of message boards out there for employee and customer rants. Many are niche, but sites like the Vault and Epinions have the critical mass to get active discussion going about many companies. These sites are filled with malcontents, so you should take what you read with a grain of salt. There are plenty of bad employees in this world, but very few people think that they are bad employees. Always remember that. The same goes for employers.

Media Sites

Accounts on sites like Flickr and YouTube are full of juicy content, but they’re hard to search. The key is finding your target’s account name.

Reputation Management Sites

Rapleaf allows you input an e-mail address and find online profiles that are associated with it. It’s a pretty neat tool, but it notifies the person that someone is searching for them (it won’t identify you). Rapleaf probably won’t give you too much that you can’t find elsewhere, but it’s still worth a try.

E-mail

You’re not going to get access to someone’s e-mail, so don’t even think about trying that. What you can do is use people’s e-mail addresses to search for info on them. Sometimes they’ll use their e-mail address, but not their name. This can be a really productive way of finding dirt when everything else is turning up dead ends.

How Deep Can Employers Bury Themselves?

Employers need to watch out! The same tools that they’re using to screen applicants can just as easily be used by applicants to screen them.

We got the idea for this article during the course of our daily search for companies with great internships and entry-level jobs. We found a comment that showed a lack of discretion from the person responsible for interviewing interns at a pretty cool company. We think that the company probably has great internships and that the guy who made the comment is probably a completely cool dude, but we can’t get over this one lapse in judgment. We can’t write positively about a company whose representatives don’t consider the ramifications of posting this kind of information in a publicly accessible forum.

There is so much buzz about the need for college students to be more responsible with their online image and personal brand, but nobody else has called out employers for making the same mistakes that the kids are making. We love it when employers make these kinds of mistakes, because it gives job searchers better insight into what it will really be like to work at a given company. You are the talent, and you can take charge of the hiring process, but only if you choose to be well informed about the companies you consider working for.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Aggarwal_Gopal


12 Responses to “Turning the Tables: Digging Dirt on Employers”

  1. Sabrina says:

    Excellent post. I am happy to hear that you are suggesting this to those just entering into their careers. We are giving the same information to those that are at the executive level. You want to work for a company that has the same values you do – the fit must be right. You want to work for a company who you can mention with pride. In the future, being able to list reputable companies on your resume and profile will be very important. In can greatly impact a recruiter or hiring managers decision to consider your application. The resources you mention are great – Thanks!

  2. Mike G says:

    I did not like this so much. I felt like it went on and on, when the gist of the article could have been summarized in one sentence: if you’re curious about a company or individual, Google them. Any more pearls of wisdom you’d care to share? I hear Toyota makes good cars.

    Did you actually include a subsection including definitions of blogs and social networking sites? For who, rip van winkle?

    Oh and the intro “interview nightmare” scenarios were more contrived than the latest crop of Hollywood romantic comedies. Meh.

  3. Great tip. One of the Facebook friends that I have works at a recruitment advertising agency. Her Facebook page has a photo that appears to be of her and her female friend performing lap dances for a couple of guys. Maybe the guys are their husbands but you still have to wonder…

    *Copied from Steven’s comment on Willy Franzen’s Facebook posting

  4. @Mike G – We respect your opinion, but the large majority of feedback on this piece has been positive. Just because it might be common sense to you doesn’t mean that it is for everyone else.

    As for the situations sounding contrived, the employer’s posting about an interview on Twitter is a TRUE STORY.

  5. Peggy McKee says:

    I think there is a big problem with this. 1. What manager would put interview feedback online in Facebook or Twitter Not mine. 2. Usually employers are only looking at candidate created material on Facebook and MySpace. Candidates are judging employers by some of the comments and blogs on sites (like http://www.cafepharma.com and http://www.biofind.com for my industry). I think most of the active posters are disgruntled employees or those who have been already fired! They don’t have a job so they spend their time bashing their past employer or any other employer that represents “the man” that is holding them down! I know of a fantastic company in the clinical diagnostics arena that is haunted by one poster who has a sole mission in life of saying outrageous statements about their former employer (including sexual harrasment allegations, illegal activities, etc.). Because of the anonymity of these sites, there is no recourse for the employer. I would hate to have any candidate turn down an opportunity with this company because of one bad egg.

    *Copied from Recruiting.com comment

  6. Bonnie says:

    While I don’t care too much for the negative implication of “digging dirt,” I absolutely agree that job candidates need to thoroughly research the industry, the company, and the person they are hoping to work for. The tips and resources you gave are excellent, as are the reminders to be careful about what gets posted.

    Candidates don’t have to look for “dirt,” though (and hopefully they won’t find much of that). Research can give insights when customizing the resume/cover letter to the job and when preparing for the interview. Anyone who DOESN’T do such research is either lazy or not serious about getting hired. With the resources available today (many you mentioned), there’s no excuse for not finding out as much as you can before submitting your resume or walking into the interview room.

    Yes, there may be inaccurate and “sour grapes” info out there, but if the employer is worth working for, there should be enough positive comments and sources to counter any negative stuff (“dirt”) made by disgruntled posters. Like I said, be thorough. You’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors for the job.

    Great post, Willy!

  7. Bob Eskridge says:

    This article is spot-on! As a physician recruiter, I depend on many information sources to find the best clients and match them with physicians. It’s important to balance this information with input you get from other sources, such as client interviews and facts about the practice. One negative item on a social networking site might be taken with a grain of salt, but if there are multiple lapses in judgment or many rants from former employees, that’s a warning sign.

  8. Regina says:

    Definitely some good ideas here. By this time, I would think most people search a prospective employer for information to improve their chances of landing a job, if nothing else. And I have seen bulletin boards in the hallways of my son’s dorm admonishing them to watch what they post on the web. But like you said, there are lots of rants, so weeding out the valid from the sour grapes is also important. On the web, everyone gets to have their say, and there will be good and/or bad, but rarely indifferent!

  9. Mandy says:

    Thank you for the informational article. Just wondering if anyone had some suggestions on what to do if when someone googles your name the first thing they come up with is links and pictures of a girl with the same name and around the same age as me, as well as from the same area? For instance, the first thing that comes up is a picture of her in a revealing halloween costume drinking beer. I’m constantly afraid people looking to hire me after I send in my resume think this is me. Any suggestions?

  10. Mandy:

    In addition to creating a professional presence on LinkedIn and Facebook, create your own website with professional pictures that clearly show your face and highlight your capabilities. Make sure that the website includes all the key words that someone might use to search you. And link your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to your website. Get linked to as many friends as you can through both Facebook and LinkedIn. Then have your friends Google you and click on the link for your site so that it starts coming up before the one with the girl who is giving you a tough reputation.

    Best wishes.

  11. Mandy,
    Here’s an extra tip: When you create your website, check to see of you own name has been used as domain name. If not, purchase a domain name as your OWN NAME. That way, YOU own your name in cyberspace. If you have a middle initial, that can differentiate your name from the other person, include it. You may or may not want to use your name for your website, but this way you can gain a measure of control over what is associated with your name. You can check it out at http://www.verio.com, a company that also sells domain names. I own two domain names; one is my won name, the other is my blog name.

    Hope this helps.

  12. Quick correction to above post: One is my OWN name, the other is my blog name.

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