Last weekend, the New York Times published yet another story about employers using the Internet to research job applicants. The author claims this is a new development and a serious issue. I declare shenanigans.
First, let's dispense with the hyperbole. No one is being blacklisted over politics or religion. The Times cited two examples where candidates had been rejected because of their online profiles; in both cases, the students had plastered their Facebook profiles with graphic descriptions of sex and drug abuse.
I realize that intelligent people can disagree about sexual proclivities or the legalization of marijuana. I won't presume that engaging in illicit sex or smoking an occasional joint necessarily indicates a lack of personal judgment — but irrespective of the acts themselves, surely we can agree that bragging about them to strangers on a global forum does indicate a lapse of both judgment and discretion.
This discussion is revived every couple of months by a newspaper or TV magazine, and it's always depicted as "a growing problem." I get annoyed when the same reporters repeatedly declare the same information to be revelatory; but moreover, I dispute the contention that "Google screening" is a common practice. Quoting the Times:
Some college career executives are skeptical that many employers routinely check applicants online. "My observation is that it's more fiction than fact," said Tom Devlin, director of the career center at the University of California, Berkeley.I agree. Most employers don't bother to fact-check applicants' resumés or confirm their education, so you're crazy if you think they're stalking your participation on Usenet. Like most conspiracy theories, it assumes an unreasonable degree of coordination.
It's like one of those scaremongering teasers for the local news: "Could your baby's diapers be dangerous? Tune in at eleven!!" And then you watch the report and it turns out that (1) they're talking about some obscure brand of diapers that no one buys, and (2) the diapers cause a mild rash in 0.5% of babies. That's what's happening here. Yes, if you litter your MySpace profile with Hitler jokes and references to 4:20, it's possible that a small percentage of employers will find it and reject you. But if you're worried about that, frankly, you're not the sort of person who deserves career advice from the New York Times.