Balancing safety after stalking vs. professional presence?
August 28, 2017 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Does failing to turn up in social media search results really scare prospective employers away?

Several years ago, I was a victim of stalking and harassment. This included cyberstalking, and attempts to locate me through email and social media aliases. For this reason, I rarely participate in public forums, and generally try to keep a low profile. The ultimate outcome of this is that I have no social media presence to speak of, and the searchable internet has, for all intents and purposes, been scrubbed of me. This has served me very well, and though my stalker remains active they have not successfully contacted me in some time.

The problem, now, is that I am applying for jobs again, and apparently in the time since I last had to do this it has become common for prospective employers to search for applicants on social media. I thought at first this was an advantage for me, because there's certainly nothing undignified drifting around out there attached to my name or photo, but it appears my invisibility could actually be a huge problem. Apparently having no Facebook or LinkedIn is sometimes considered to be suspicious, evidence that my profiles were unflattering and so hidden or removed. I don't have those accounts because they make it exceedingly easy for stalkers to locate you and harass you at work or through your acquaintances, but that's hardly something to announce to prospective employers. As stalking victim Ava K. said in an article about LinkedIn stalking, "I don't want prospective employers knowing I have a stalker, I'd never get a job."

The obvious answer to being stalked on social media is to lock down or erase your social media-- but if employers are counting on social media accounts to present an image of who you are, being invisible could cost you a job. How big a detriment is this really, and is there any way to mitigate the damage?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It depends a lot on the field. At a trendy Bat Area startup, it probably matters. Anything government or medical, it's probably better not to. I work in tech myself and while I only know a few people without LinkedIn, they seem to have no trouble getting great jobs.
posted by miyabo at 10:03 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some corporate employers prohibit searching for someone on social media by hiring peeps in and out of HR.
posted by tilde at 10:21 AM on August 28, 2017

This seems like a situation where being automatically weeded out would be a blessing in disguise. If the policy of the company is to assume no social media presence is a bad thing rather than a neutral thing, their hiring is already problematic. If they brought it up as a question in a second or third interview and took your answer into account, that would be less than ideal but more understandable. For that reason, I would have a prepared answer along the lines of not having time to keep up with social media and preferring in person quality time with friends.

The other issue you may have is if you have a name in common with anyone in your area, your lack of profile may cause them to assume the other person is you.
posted by soelo at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think this will depend from manager to manager, to be honest. One person might find it weird but someone else might not bat an eye. I agree that any new, tech-focused job is going to care more than an old-school or traditional company.

If you are worried though, I wonder if it would be worth having a LinkedIn page. You can limit it so you can't get mail, only introductions, and only contacts you import can add you. You can set it so no one can see your connections. You can make the page pretty locked down, but I wouldn't count on that -- but even then, the LinkedIn would only show your past employment info, nothing current, as long as you don't add your new job. It seems a lot of people let their LinkedIn page lapse and don't update it with anything recent, so it wouldn't look weird.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:26 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm going to assume that you're not applying for, like, social media manager positions or something else where it mattered.

As a hiring manager (in SF tech!), if I couldn't find the LinkedIn Profile of someone I wanted to bring in, I would think it's weird for about 30 seconds and then forget about it. It's hard to find lots of people (similar names, etc). Not having FB/Twitter/Insta/really social stuff is seriously not a problem - I judge someone more (like a 2 instead of a 0 on a scale of 0-lots) if I can find a (public) profile than if I can't, because what are they doing making themselves so visible.

That said, I do know people who do LinkedIn profiles with no last name (e.g. "Jane D.") or profile pic so that they can send the URL to someone when it's relevant but not actually be searchable in any way. Is that possible as a middle ground for you? I do not think it's in any way necessary, however.
posted by brainmouse at 10:33 AM on August 28, 2017

Most people keep their FB content locked down to friends only, so not finding you there shouldn't be an issue. Twitter only has about 20% of the US market, and most of those accounts are probably dormant anyway, so not finding you on Twitter really shouldn't surprise anybody. LinkedIn is the only place a potential employer might find it odd not to find you, but since they have your resume in their hands I doubt many would rule you out over it. As stated above, LI does offer decent tools to control visibility, so it might be worth looking into if you are really concerned.

Also, I would think they don't really bother looking you up online until after the first round of interviews. No use spending time tracking down 12 people when 9 of them will be ruled out after the first interview anyway. So by the time anybody really looks online, you are on the shortlist and at that point I think they'd simply ask if concerned. This is all speculation though, I might be wrong.
posted by COD at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Look, you found two articles from 2012 suggesting that not having a Facebook was suspicious. I do not think this is the case. People use Facebook a lot differently now than they did in 2012, and a lot of people have drastically pulled back from Facebook.

It's very difficult for employers to tell whether you have a private, scaled-back Facebook account or none at all.

In some fields/with some managers I'm sure this could count against you; others would count it as a point in your favor ("oh, this person must be info-sec conscious, or isn't one of these self-involved millennials always in their phone, or $other_stereotype").

There are lots of things to worry about - I wouldn't bother with this one, unless you are applying for social media director jobs or your industry handles hiring exclusively through LinkedIn (unlikely).
posted by mskyle at 12:12 PM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

The problem with not having a LinkedIn account is not that it means you're suspicious, but that it means you're invisible. A significant percentage of my team's hires are people we cold-contacted on LinkedIn. If you don't have a LinkedIn account, we will never find you in the first place. Once you're already in the process, not having a LinkedIn account is slightly annoying to me as a hiring manager, but not a negative, as long as you have an up to date resume.

It might be considered a negative if you are applying to work at Facebook or LinkedIn though.
posted by phoenixy at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2017

in the past couple years i've been a member of several search committees for staff positions at a university. we were specifically instructed not to search for anything on the web about potential employees as it can reveal details about their membership in protected classes (race, age, marital status, health, etc) that could open us up to potential lawsuits by candidates that were passed over.
posted by noloveforned at 1:28 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're in an industry where you think it may be important, I think you could say in your cover letter that you have locked down your online presence for personal reasons, but that of course you are able to provide references for contact.
posted by vignettist at 2:11 PM on August 28, 2017

In my field (scientific research) this would not be an issue in the slightest. We look at cover letters and CVs and that's it.
posted by emd3737 at 2:46 PM on August 28, 2017

I am a hiring manager. I am (presumably) not your hiring manager.

Everything other than LinkedIn -- zero significance, unless perhaps you are holding yourself out as a social media professional. Even then, show me the COMPANY accounts you have been managing, and everything is fine. Once I've hired someone, I will need for them to friend me IF I need them to manage a FB page belonging to the company. If they wanted to create a dummy account using their work email to friend me for that purpose, that's fine too (may or may not be fine with FB; I find their methods of managing identity kind of strange).

LinkedIn -- only significant in that you have less chance of being found by me for a job in the first place, because that's where I look. Complete lack of a LI profile might be a bit of a head scratcher in the field I'm using hiring for (web developer), but give me a CV and all is well.

Maybe I'm old school, but while I'm not above looking at any social media profiles that come to my attention, asking a candidate about where their profiles are if I don't naturally see them seems intrusive. As a candidate myself I would probably lose interest in a company in direct proportion to their interest in my personal profiles. If I don't see profiles I assume they are not interested in using social media in their personal life or have them locked down for any number of valid reasons.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:00 PM on August 28, 2017

I would consider the lack of a LinkedIn presence by an applicant to be eccentric, but only problematic if you had a job where inbound and outbound networking were important. Now, that's a lot of jobs, but it's certainly not all the jobs.

Lack of Twitter and Instagram, a positive. Lack of Facebook -- a bit odd, but in no way shape or form negative for hiring purposes.
posted by MattD at 6:33 PM on August 28, 2017

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