Googling potential employees
January 11, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

After reading this comment some of us have wondered:
How common is it for employers to google prospective employees?
posted by gluechunk to Work & Money (32 answers total)
I've had it mentioned in a few interviews, and, yet, I can't stop using my name online...

I know, I know. Bad. Very very bad. But if a company can't deal with my hobbies, then I'd like to know right off the bat rather than finding out two years later when, suddenly, it's not cool (as what happened with my previous major employer).
posted by Katemonkey at 2:27 PM on January 11, 2005

Sounds incredibly invasive, rude, and Big Brother-ish to me. I hope it's the exception rather than the rule. I would hate to work for someone that I knew to do this.
posted by xmutex at 2:27 PM on January 11, 2005

I Googled every intern and job applicant at my last job. It wasn't official procedure, just bored curiousity. I often had to pare 150 resumes down to about 5, but just as the extra Google step got boring, I'd find a salsa dancer or slashfic writer...
posted by pzarquon at 2:32 PM on January 11, 2005

Wait just a second... Katemonkey, are you saying that a previous employer canned you because you wrote BtVS fanfic?
posted by FlamingBore at 2:34 PM on January 11, 2005

I don't think it would be too helpful for employers in my case, as I share a name with a fairly well known performance artist and 99% of the things that come up on a Google search are about her.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:38 PM on January 11, 2005

I have often done this when shortlisting, especially for technical roles, and I don't understand, xmutex, why this would be invasive or rude.

If you dig into the past you can find 10 year old alt.tasteless postings from If you don't want to hire me now, based on that, you are too clueless for me to want to work for you.

In particular, a few years ago, when internet use was less ubiquitous than it is now, I would do this for programmers who claimed to have years of exerience with internet-related fields. If I couldn't turn up one newsgroup posting, list archive or web page with them on it that would be a big cue to start poking harder at their claims.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:41 PM on January 11, 2005

For what it's worth, I now craft my Google-persona on the assumption that clients/employers are going to look me up. I do stuff like providing useful responses on technical mailing lists under my real name, knowing they'll eventually get spidered. Having an unusual name helps.

I also search on any client/interviewer I'm about to meet... I once found I was interviewing with a guy who wrote a book on MySQL, which was a useful conversation starter.
posted by Leon at 2:42 PM on January 11, 2005

It doesn't seem to be terribly uncommon. Rarely have I been given an explicit You Have Been Googled heads-up by a prospective employer, though I have had the occasional interviewer conclude our session with a giveaway "before I go, I just have to ask: what led you to be involved with [random thing my name appears on online]?" type of question.

It was a little bit off-putting at first. Still, I make sure to thoroughly mine for information about any company where I might potentially end up working at, so I suppose that turnabout is fair play. 'Sides, if there's some firm that'd wig out about the things I say and do on my own time, I'd much prefer they do so before hiring me rather than getting into a corporate snit down the line.
posted by youhas at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2005

I just assumed that employers do it. I certainly would, not necessarily for finding any sort of "gotcha" information, but for trying to get a better feel of the employee, their outside interests, etc.
posted by gyc at 2:51 PM on January 11, 2005

I often google prospective employees. I don't do this to find out whether they are into kinky sex or mind-altering drugs or right wing politics. I do this to see if they have had an impact in their field, if their writing has had any lasting presence on the web, and to see what kind of issues they've been involved with.

Granted, the situation would be different if I was hiring at MacDonalds rather than at an environmental advocacy non-profit. But I could see doing the same when hiring a programmer or a web designer. I want people with a net-presence, and so I want to know what their net presence is.
posted by alms at 2:52 PM on January 11, 2005

I don't have a problem with an employer googling me. Like joe's_spleen said: If you don't want to hire me now, based on that, you are too clueless for me to want to work for you.

I do have a problem, however, with ex-boyfriends doing this. The way I found out I'd been published on McSweeney's when an ex mentioned it when I ran into him months later after dumping his sorry ass. He actually admitted he'd found it by googling me. Ick.
posted by Specklet at 2:53 PM on January 11, 2005

I certainly do this for higher-level candidates, and I consider it neither invasive nor rude. I'm not going through anybody's garbage; I'm looking at things that they've posted on the Internet.

Most of what I find is either a neutral factor or a positive. Rarely do I disqualify somebody based on on it; when I do, it's usually for a job where written communication is important and the googling suggests that they don't do that well.

I remember one case where a candidate for a Unix sysadmin job was revealed to be a passionate advocate for a technical proposal I considered spectacularly stupid. But he advocated it well and interacted respectfully with his opponents, and that outweighed the boneheadedness of the proposal and made him a more attractive candidate rather than less.
posted by bac at 2:56 PM on January 11, 2005

I dunno about employers, but you should assume that your bosses or co-workers may google your name at some point, if only out of boredom.

And it works the other way, too--people who are also at your LargeBehemothCompany, but who you don't know or interact with, may find your online writings and then backtrace you via Google and then realize that they work with you. That one has happened to me: I got involved with proposals for an IBM blog network (both internal and customer-facing) because quite a few IBM employees (independently) found my blog and then found out that I worked at IBM and took their own initiative to come down to talk to me about how IBM could use blogging for corporate communication. Not much came of it, nor from Six Apart's presentation to the company about the value of corpoate blogging almost a year later. Still, it was neat.

So assume that whatever you're writing/doing/creating on the Internet may one day be seen by a potential or current co-worker, friend, or family member. This will either make you totally inhibited online, totally anonymous/pseudonymous online, or totally honest and integrative of your online and offline activities. I briefly chose option B and then chose option C; your mileage may vary.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:16 PM on January 11, 2005

Wow, first time I've been meta-Ax'd...

I often google prospective employees. I don't do this to find out whether they are into kinky sex or mind-altering drugs or right wing politics. I do this to see if they have had an impact in their field, if their writing has had any lasting presence on the web, and to see what kind of issues they've been involved with.

Agreed. I've been doing it because I've been interviewing for a technical/design role that involves a lot of standards and design type stuff, and is a very insecure position at a very young company... which requires a very good personality match.
I want to turn up any projects or companies the person has been a part of that they've left off of their resumes for whatever reason, any newsgroup or forum postings they've done and what kind of advice they give, and generally to get a feel for them as a person. Generally, it's more of a help than anything to worry about -- it makes them more human before the interview and helps to give a context for anything they say during the interview. Sometimes, I've found they've gotten involved in some toxic flamewars or other negative behaviour -- which also gives the interview a context, albiet of a different sort.
If I turn up postings on, it might raise an eyebrow, but I don't think it'd bump them off the shortlist if they're otherwise qualified. (Unless there is, for instance, a picture of them with man-toe in a Tron suit. On their website. Then I might not interview them because I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face.)
posted by SpecialK at 3:35 PM on January 11, 2005

About 1997 I had a prospective team lead interviewing me mention that she'd come across a semi-academic paper I'd posted online about a particular aspect of pop culture analyzed with queer theory. Fortunately this was exactly the kind of thing the interviewer was interested in. I believe it set me apart from the other candidates for what was in effect a pretty indistinguished entry-level job. She hired me and we got along swimmingly for the length of that contract.
posted by matildaben at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2005

I've been googled and had my blog pulled up *while I was in a group interview* by someone who didn't think I could see his monitor.

So I don't think it's terribly uncommon at all.
posted by Remy at 3:57 PM on January 11, 2005

At my last interview, the library director asked me "So, how would you rate our library on your library rating list?" [which was on my web site at the time] which I wasn't at all surprised at. I expect to be Googled by any employer with a computer and a lick of web savviness with a similar caveat to what i_am_joe's_spleen has to say about it; if they don't like me, it's better that they and I know that before they accidentally hire me.
posted by jessamyn at 5:01 PM on January 11, 2005

OK, at the risk of being branded a slimy corporate tentacle, (oops!), let me ask a question (but first, the setup):

Anyone can google your name. Anyone -- ex-SOs, stalkers, fans, family, friends, long-lost acquaintances. Is the objection to your boss/coworkers doing it one of context?

If so, it seems incredibly naive to me to cry foul when you've presumably put that information out there for the world to see (and if you haven't, I think Google can remove it).

Do I do it? Yes, but it's more out of idle curiosity and to find out what cool stuff people have done. It's a nice interview topic if they've written extensively about a project they've been involved in and it happens to be germane to the job for which they're interviewing. I don't think I'd ever use the results of the search against a candidate unless it exposed a discrepancy in his application that couldn't be explained away during the face-to-face encounter.
posted by aberrant at 8:38 PM on January 11, 2005

I've been on the panel of people interviewing prospective employees before, asked to give my vote, and I've never done it. Stupid me?
posted by scarabic at 8:49 PM on January 11, 2005

Sure, I've googled potential employees for the exact reasons alms states. I'm looking for reasons to like them, and trying to come up with interview questions that would match their technical interests (so I can get a feel for the depth in which they try to learn a subject).

I also routinely google the person who'll be interviewing me, and my potential new coworkers. My primary desire when looking for a new job is to work with working with interesting people. More than once I've found that a potential employer held views that I just wouldn't be able to deal with on a daily basis, and turned down the job.
posted by Laen at 8:58 PM on January 11, 2005

i sometimes google people (though i'm rarely invovled in hiring these days). it tends to count for them rather than against - i too, use my own name on the net and, at times, say stupid things, so i'm happy to accept/ignore that. but it's a Good Thing if a programmer has a web page with projects etc (so i don't bother reading posts on say mefi or dredging up details of their financial or sex lives - although i might do that with colleagures if i'm bored - but rather look for evidence that they'd be good at what they do).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:18 AM on January 12, 2005

incidentally, many people include URLs on CVs, so must expect some kind of web-awareness on the part of employers.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:20 AM on January 12, 2005

FlamingBore -- it wasn't the primary reason, and I wasn't exactly fired (I quit before they could), but it was one of the reasons. I had been spending my lunch break checking my home email account (just like everyone else) and doing some research to further a research project I did back in '99. They took offense at my emails and my research, even though I was dead careful about what I was looking at, and it was one of the things they wrote me up on.

They also wrote me up on blogging during work hours, which I was told would be okay when I signed up (and, in fact, my boss had been reading said blog before he hired me), but someone else took offense, and, well...

Eh, what can you do?
posted by Katemonkey at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2005

I had a post on a very old geocities journal about a friend that included his full name and then somewhat later, a funny story about him and strip clubs. His new boss googled and was apparently annoyed about it, and requested that he have it removed. So, it didn't cost him the job, but the employer was worried about prospective clients getting the same results and tried to clean it up a little.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:42 AM on January 12, 2005

Whilst typing someone's name into Google could give you a better insight into them as a prospective employee, it could also give you a completely false impression of them. There's a lot of people out there with the same name. I just googled myself, and was surprised to discover that I'm apparently married to Baron Clamor of the Bussche Haddenhausen. Under my maiden name I've been much busier. Im simultaneously a published author, a hockey teacher at some Australian girls' school and a conservation activist in Wales. It makes me deeply uneasy that the activities of people completely unrelated to me who happen to share my name might have some bearing on whether a company chooses to employ me or not. I'm not concerned so much whether it's invasive or rude, but I am concerned as to whether it's accurate.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:21 AM on January 12, 2005

i suspect people clued up enough to use google to look for personal info (indeed, anyone who has worked out how you enter text on the computer by pressing the little buttons with letters on, rather than, say, trying to eat them) will also have worked out that more than one person may share the same name.

this is particularly obvious if you live in a catholic country with more than 365.25 people, incidentally.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2005

I always do this. Primarily, as i_am_joe's_spleen says, to get an idea of whether the candidate has any sort of online presence or reputation.

I don't use my real name for silly stuff anymore, but a truckload of teenage usenet posts will be my undoing one day.
posted by cell at 9:13 AM on January 12, 2005

I don't think that I've ever been "googled" by a perspective employer, though I'm sure that it will become more common. I have been googled by dates. I know that everyone has access to the internets nowadays, but it's kinda creepy to be on a first date and the guy says "so you do human rights work, huh?" This is always followed by the self-congratulatory smile, like they find themselves to be the cleverest men on the planet. Yuck.
posted by Juicylicious at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2005

A side question that occurs to me: is there a way to make Google more accurate for one's own name? For instance, is there something I can put somewhere in my own website (which features my artwork but only mentions my first name) so that when someone Googles my full name, my site comes up as a response? Without putting my name all over my site for drive-by visitors to see, that is.
posted by xo at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2005

I think I posted this somewhere else on mefi recently, but yeah, regarding people with the same name as you, I am apaprently:

a golden retriever
a gay porn star
an ex WWF wrestler (who actually lives quite near me)
an australian writer/researcher
the ex head of the southern marketing association

but I am actually none of these things.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:07 AM on January 12, 2005

I think you're being much too modest Rusty. I'm quite sure that you ARE a gay man who stars in pornos where you wrestle golden retrievers and then write about it later while on vacation in Australia. Of course this is why you were terminated as head honcho of the southern marketing association.
posted by Juicylicious at 11:36 AM on January 12, 2005

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