In the ever-evolving landscape of the job market, securing a new or first-time position can prove to be an arduous task. The application process, especially for graduate schemes, entails a series of intricate steps, including the tailoring of applications, psychometric testing, interviews, and participation in extensive assessments, either online or in person.
However, behind the scenes, there exists a hidden aspect of scrutiny that could potentially hinder one’s chances of success—digital footprints. Shockingly, up to 80% of employers and recruitment agencies delve into social media content as part of their candidate assessment. It is during this process that open discussions about health conditions, addiction struggles, or personal circumstances like pregnancy can inadvertently affect an applicant’s suitability. Furthermore, a profile showcasing polarizing views, unconventional lifestyle choices, or excessive revelry can also cast a shadow on an individual’s prospects.
Even after successfully landing a job, employees find themselves subjected to the watchful eyes of their employers, even in their online activities conducted outside of working hours. Inadvertent leakage of sensitive information, such as trade secrets, intellectual property, or personal details of colleagues, poses significant security risks to organizations. The consequences of such breaches may encompass the loss of competitive advantage, damage to reputation, and a decline in client trust.
A recent incident has vividly illustrated the gravity of these security risks. Two Naval personnel had shared intimate footage of their activities at a secure UK nuclear submarine base on the OnlyFans pornography-sharing website, leading to severe disciplinary action.
To shed light on the issue, our team conducted extensive interviews with 26 individuals, focusing on the detrimental impact of digital footprints on both employees and employers. Through these conversations, we discovered that many struggle to fully comprehend the extent and potential consequences of their digital footprints. They often fail to envision how others may piece together fragments of information to draw unforeseen conclusions.
This issue becomes particularly pertinent for young adults entering the job market. As they typically possess extensive digital footprints spanning multiple platforms and years, their online presence may reflect outdated versions of themselves, including identities and opinions they have since outgrown.
During our research, young individuals revealed the immense peer pressure they face to comment on trending topics such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, even if they harbor reservations about expressing their opinions publicly. Many expressed regret over immaturely expressed political, racial, or sexual views from their teenage years that no longer resonate positively with their current values. The persistent nature of online content can significantly impact young adults in ways that may be unfamiliar to their parents, who are fortunate enough to have their youthful indiscretions confined to photo albums under their beds.
The concept of digital decluttering emerges as a potential solution. However, individuals find this task overwhelming, struggling to recall their extensive online presence across various channels and over an extended period. Many opt to avoid decluttering altogether, falsely believing their digital lives to be uninteresting and unworthy of others’ attention.
Some resort to sweeping measures, such as deleting social media accounts entirely. However, for some young adults, this is a luxury they cannot afford. Certain industries and job seekers, particularly those aiming for white-collar positions, feel compelled to maintain a visible online presence via social media platforms. They do so to provide potential employers with an opportunity to assess their suitability for a position.
Online visibility holds great importance, as it shapes one’s identity in the eyes of the world—a portrayal of who they are, their social circles, activities, and even opinions. Admittedly, this identity may be a carefully curated and sanitized version of the real person, designed to appeal to an online audience, much like a well-crafted CV.
Job seekers face an ongoing dilemma between feeling obliged to maintain online visibility and ensuring their personal safety. One interviewee, who came from a family seeking asylum in the UK, highlighted the predicament faced by asylum seekers. Any digital information they put out into the world becomes instantly accessible, potentially jeopardizing their safety. Nevertheless, they also recognize the need to present themselves online in order to advance their careers and gain legitimacy in the eyes of potential employers.
Similarly, survivors of domestic abuse may feel compelled to maintain a low profile online to avoid being located by their abusers.
Embracing the daunting task of decluttering becomes an essential aspect of entering the professional realm. Begin by conducting a thorough search of your own name on search engines. Enlist the help of a trusted acquaintance to explore your online presence and gauge what they find. Whenever possible, remove any content that portrays you in a negative light. In cases where others have posted content featuring you, politely request its removal. Untag yourself from unflattering posts and photos. If all else fails, disassociate yourself from online connections who have tagged you during your least favorable moments, ensuring that the content is no longer associated with your digital identity.
If there is a substantial amount of content that could potentially harm your employment prospects, consider adjusting your privacy settings to limit access for potential employers. In instances where your association with a particular social media platform no longer aligns with your present self, such as having an OnlyFans account, untangle yourself from it and permanently delete your account.
In the modern job market, navigating the complexities of digital footprints is an increasingly critical skill. Taking proactive steps to manage one’s online presence can make all the difference in securing employment opportunities and protecting personal well-being.