Ask the Headhunter: Why Ben Franklin wouldn’t be hired in the digital age

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1776: The drafting of the Declaration of Independence in Colonial America. From left to right: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)

Ben Franklin probably would have been rejected by any employer who learned that the man took “air baths” regularly — sitting naked in front of an open window. Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that something like 80 percent of employers and recruiters check out job applicants’ online information before making a hiring decision. And out of those, 70 percent rejected candidates based on what they found. So I should assume my future boss is reading everything I share online.

I’m curious: How much do you look online when you are checking out a potential candidate for a client? That Wall Street Journal article seems to imply that we are so important that recruiters have nothing better to do than peer into our online “lives.” Obviously, we all need to exercise good judgment. But if a young kid (or someone older like me) posts something stupid, should that be held against us years from now or negate positive career achievements?

Nick Corcodilos: Good questions and ones that have become popular fodder for career pundits. But in practice, are recruiters and employers just getting kooky? Should employers really worry so much about your online “record”? Is it even a record, or is it just the detritus of life?

I believe one reason HR departments rely on our social media records is that these are easier to check than real references, which take time (and phone calls). (See “The Ministry of Reference Checks.”) As a headhunter, I want to talk to people who know you and who have worked with you. I’d rather fantasize about how your qualities will help my client than about your transgressions.

It wasn’t hard to find the article you refer to — “Five Mistakes Online Job Hunters Make” — because everything is online, right? Does that mean we should factor it into our decision making?

I’m not surprised at all the online checking employers do or that so many reported dumping applicants because of what they found. But if I looked through employers’ dumpsters, I’d probably find something that might make me want to dump them too.

So to what extent should such “information” be used to judge job applicants?

To some extent, certainly. But to borrow from Ben Franklin (who probably would have been rejected by any employer who learned that the man took “air baths” regularly — sitting naked in front of an open window): Everything in moderation!

A 70 percent rejection rate is not moderation! It’s kooky, and it’s scary.

I check people out online, but I also exercise judgment. Not until social media came along were we able to look into so many corners of people’s lives in such detail… So what? I could send someone to your house to rummage through your trash too — but I won’t.

Before the net, we didn’t know stuff we know now. So what? Just because you learn something doesn’t mean that it means anything.

There’s nothing you can do to stop employers from checking your online indiscretions, but you can offset them with smart references. (See “The Preemptive Reference.”) You might even teach an employer a thing or two.

Before the net, we didn’t know stuff we know now. So what? Just because you learn something doesn’t mean that it means anything. But when a practice like this becomes part of a routine process of checking people out, we have to start worrying whether the people who do the checking know how to weigh a piece of data. The more data they have, the less likely they are to distinguish useful information.

Does it matter that I take air baths?

Dear Readers: Should your online presence matter to employers? Have you been rejected due to something you shared online? What can job seekers do to offset online surprises — to balance the impression an employer gets?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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