PracticeAccounting FirmsBig Brother tactics: delving deeper

Big Brother tactics: delving deeper

Technology is making it easier for employers to reveal the real story behind potential recruits is an American online
company that promises instant, self service, public background checks (for a
‘small fee’) for employers, law enforcement agencies, private investigators and
the general public. Of course, you’d never get away with that in the UK. Or
would you?

The Big Brother phenomenon is everywhere, and who better to use this to their
advantage than employers? Already in the UK, websites exists to offer criminal
background checks, motor vehicle records, employee records, employment
verifications (did the fact that you locked up on Friday nights really make you
‘occasional acting manager’?) and even credit report checks.

Most people have something they would like to hide from a prospective
employer. But whether it’s a smoking habit or a sexual fetish, some information
simply does not need to be volunteered. Unfortunately for job seekers, gone are
the days when an employer only had a printout of your CV to rely on; today’s
technology ensures that there is nowhere to hide.

Invading your space

Who hasn’t ever searched on the internet for an ex boyfriend or girlfriend at
some stage to see what comes up? But have you ever considered what might crop up
if a potential employer decides to conduct some DIY research on you? If you are
one of the 100 million MySpace members, for example, have you considered the
ramifications this can have for your career?

With the vast majority of job seekers now using search engines to find
relevant job postings, many recruitment agencies and HR departments are turning
to search marketing to improve candidate flow, and networking sites like MySpace
are becoming a popular target. They allow employers to delve into your personal
lives as well as your career history. There’s nothing stopping employers from
browsing the murkiest corners of the virtual world. Your likes, dislikes,
aspirations, love interests and sometimes even diary entries are there for their

The majority of internet bloggers are, let’s face it, not backward about
coming forward. By flicking between message boards that allow friends to post
comments on other friends’ pages, you can piece together bits of gossip that you
might not even expect to hear thanks to a drunken indiscretion at the Christmas

Yet, people are posting this information on the internet, detailing the most
intimate areas of their lives for the world to see. Explicit and incriminating
photographs and postings can be hilarious, yet under what circumstances would
you attach a photograph of yourself being sick to your CV and send it to a
potential employer?

Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment
Confederation, says there is a fine line between legally accessing information
from public websites, and knowing what you can and cannot do with this

‘For example, simply taking into account a person’s hobbies and interests
when considering suitability for a role would, in general, not amount to any
form of discrimination. However, seeking some additional details such as photos
of the applicant or information on religious beliefs, for example, could leave
you open to claims of discrimination on grounds such as race, age or religious
belief unless you can demonstrate that these factors had no influence on the
recruitment decision,’ says Hadley.

Relevant information

The key issue is to take into account how relevant the information really is
to the particular position you are recruiting for. It is also a principle under
the Data Protection Act that you should only store information on an individual,
where this is necessary.

Blogs, podcasts, vodcasts are all being recognised as an e-recruitment tool,
as well as a corporate communications channel. By their nature, blogs open a
two-way communication between a company and a prospective employee. However, it
is not an entirely positive progression, as many people do not consider the
ramifications of posting such personal messages on the internet.

Blogs go one step further than online networking sites. As their popularity
has gone into overdrive, more people have started their own online diary,
sometimes anonymously, mostly not. Users can share videos, discuss topics online
in forums and open their diaries for discussions that can be viewed by anyone.
What we are experiencing is a world driven by polar opposites.

Company of strangers

The dichotomy is that while technology is causing many people to turn their
backs on face-to-face communication, at the same time it opens the door for
complete strangers to have access to a wealth of information on us, and not all
of it necessarily career-enhancing.

The results of a web poll on companies’ internet search policies indicated
that use of the internet to get the low-down on recruits is a lot more common
than people are letting on. Two-thirds of the 500 respondents said they
regularly perform internet searches on prospective candidates to help determine
their suitability for employment. A further 19% of those polled said they would
consider doing it.

A CV used to be enough to secure a job, but at a time when cultural fit is
just as important as a strong educational background, taking advantage of search
engines and social networking sites is likely to become even more popular among
employers looking to recruit. If the information is available, what employer
isn’t going to take a closer look at their potential employee?

There is nothing to stop employers choosing not to employ someone if their
personality doesn’t strike them as an appropriate fit for their company, but
then run the risk of being criticised for doing so. So where does this leave a

Until clearer rules are established it is probably better to adhere to an old
adage; if its something you wouldn’t want your employer to read, don’t email it.
Perhaps we should add to that: don’t email/blog/use message boards/create
websites/use forums and networking sites or, indeed, use the internet at all.

Sarah Swailes is an executive at recruitment consultancy
Poolia UK

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