Your Life Could Be An Open Book

According to a report that summarizes Online Reputation Research, commissioned by Microsoft, fewer than 15% of consumers surveyed in the U.S. and the U.K. believe that information found online would have an impact on their getting a job. Those consumers surveyed significantly underestimate the level of data mining that recruiters and HR professionals conduct and the impact it can have on hiring.

In the United States and U.K., recruiters and HR professionals surveyed are likely to research candidate behavior online and report markedly high rates of candidate rejections based on their findings. Comparatively, only 7% of U.S. consumers surveyed believe information about them online affected their job search, while 70%% of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals have rejected candidates based on information they found online.

This study explores the attitudes of consumers, HR professionals, and recruiters on the subject of online reputation. Highlights of the study's findings include:

  • The recruiters and HR professionals surveyed are not only checking online sources to learn about potential candidates, but they also report that their companies have made online screening a formal requirement of the hiring process. Of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 70% say they have rejected candidates based on information they found online.
  • Recruiters and HR professionals surveyed report being very or somewhat concerned about the authenticity of the content they find.
  • In all countries, recruiters and HR professionals say they believe the use of online reputational information will significantly increase over the next five years.
  • Positive online reputations matter. Among U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 85% say that positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their decisions to a great extent.

From the consumer viewpoint:

  • Consumers surveyed have mixed opinions about the appropriateness of recruiters and HR professionals examining some types of online content. Most consumers find it reasonable that recruiters and HR professionals check information on professional sites. There is greater concern, however, about recruiter scrutiny of photos, videos, and other personal content including blogs, personal social network pages, organizations they are affiliated with, financial information, and the like.
  • Consumers surveyed use a variety of methods to monitor and manage the information posted about them online. Most notably, they use multiple personas, search for information about themselves, adjust privacy settings, and refrain from posting content that they believe could damage their reputation.
  • Though most consumers surveyed do manage their reputation at least to some extent, there are a significant percentage of respondents (between 30% and 35% depending on nationality) who don't feel their online reputation affects either their personal or professional life, and are not taking steps to manage their reputations.

Of the U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 75% report that their companies have formal policies in place that require hiring personnel to research applicants online, and 79% of U.S. recruiters check on online reputational data. In the U.S. 86% of male recruiters and HR professionals review online  reputational data, though only 61% of women do so.

In the United States, 89% of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed find it appropriate to consider professional online data when assessing a candidate; 84% of them think it is proper to consider personal data posted online.

There are noteworthy differences between the types of sites that consumers surveyed think are appropriate for recruiters and HR professionals to examine and the types chosen to investigate.

  • Only 15% of U.S. consumers surveyed think it is very appropriate that employers review candidates' photo and video sharing sites, while 25% think it is somewhat appropriate, and 44% think it is somewhat or very inappropriate. Yet, 59% percent of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed check these sites.
  • 43% of those U.S. consumers surveyed think reviews of social networking sites are very to somewhat appropriate, and an equal number find it very to somewhat inappropriate.
  • Among those surveyed who are 18 to 24 years of age, the percentage of those who think it is inappropriate for recruiters and HR professionals to check these sites jumps to 56% of those surveyed. Yet 63% of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed review these sites.
  • 64% of U.S. respondents say that it is very to somewhat appropriate for recruiters and HR professionals to look at these sites. Interestingly, only 57% of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed actually do so.

Areas of online information that stir the most controversy among respondents in the United States when reviewed by recruiters and HR professionals for reputational information include:

  • Online gaming (only 23% of users find this very to somewhat appropriate)
  • Virtual worlds (only 25% of users find this very to somewhat appropriate)
  • Classifieds and auction sites like Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, etc. (only 28% of users find this very to somewhat appropriate)

Yet on average one in four U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed reviewed these sites for applicant information. In fact, online searches by recruiters and HR professionals are so prevalent in the United States that only 2% of those surveyed did not research any of the types of sites listed in the table below.

Percent Of Recruiters And HR Professionals Who Use These Types Of Sites When Researching Applicants

Site Researched

% Professionals Using

Search engines


Social networking sites


Photo and video sharing sites


Professional and business networking sites


Personal Web sites




News sharing sites (e.g. Twitter)


Online forums and communities


Virtual world sites


Web sites that aggregate personal information


Online gaming sites


Professional background checking services


Classifieds and auction sites


None of these


Source: Microsoft, February 2010

Concerns about lifestyle, inappropriate comments, and unsuitable photos and videos top the list of reasons that those surveyed give for rejecting a candidate. But they also rejected applicants because of inappropriate comments by friends, family, and colleagues, or based on membership in certain groups.

U.S. Recruiters and HR Professionals Reasons for Candidate Rejection


% of Respondents Selecting Reason

Concerns about the candidate's lifestyle


Inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate


Unsuitable photos , videos, and information


Inappropriate comments or text written by friends and relatives


Comments criticizing previous employers, co-workers, or clients


Inappropriate comments or text written by colleagues or work acquaintances


Membership in certain groups and networks


Discovered that information the candidate shared was false


Poor communication skills displayed online


Concern about the candidate's financial background


Source: Microsoft, February 2010

The good news for applicants is that creating a strong, positive personal brand online can have a positive impact on their applications. In the United States, 86% of human resources professionals surveyed stated that a positive online reputation influences the candidate's application to some extent; almost half stated that it does so to a great extent.

Though nearly 70% of respondents from each country reported they had not posted content (including text, video or photos) in the last six months they came to regret, only 39% of U.S. males and 54% of U.S. women said they always considered their online reputation when posting Web content.

Finally, of particular concern is the depth and breadth of information that recruiters are seeking about candidates. Traditionally, recruiters have had clear restrictions on the types of information they can ask candidates. This included restrictions on asking about their families, their affiliation to religious, political or other groups, their financial situation, medical condition, and so on.

Now, recruiters can easily and anonymously collect information that they would not be permitted to ask in an interview, and the survey found that recruiters are doing just that.

For more information, including charts, please visit Microsoft Data here.

10 comments about "Your Life Could Be An Open Book".
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  1. Nettie Hartsock from The Hartsock Agency, March 12, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.

    Very insightful story and study. It underlines the real need for people to understand on a very deep level that you are "what you publish on the Web," as David Meerman Scott has often said.

    Our online lives are open books and I'm sure the statistics will continue to grow in terms of how many employers, prospective peers and partners go to the keyboard as their first step in vetting our potential contributions.

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, March 12, 2010 at 10:02 a.m.

    I would post a response but then it would go into my online reputation.

  3. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, March 12, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

    Pete Cashmore my Social Media Hypster and biased self promoter at Mashable thinks none of us want privacy. That we want to expose everything about our life to the world. Of course this benefits him financially so of course he hopes this occurs. And of course he is wrong. This is the 37,967 nail in the coffin of his view waiting for 37,968.

  4. Lester Bryant iii from Bryant Writing & Consulting, March 12, 2010 at 10:37 a.m.

    Thanks for this important post! I might only add that being an open book could well work in your favor. Even in this economy job pursuits are two sided. Not only should the org. judge my fitness but, I should be doing the same. Is this the right org. for me? The person you are just might be incompatible with the organization that you are applying. For example your "right wing" views might be so extreme as to clash with a progressive "liberal" organization. Having the org. reject you early might save all involved future trouble.
    I check out friend requests (google the person) before accepting and I often reject those I believe I will have problems with. Just because I knew someone in the 3rd grade does not mean we are compatible today. As well, just because you have a job and I want a job does not mean our coming together is a good idea. If you don't want me then it's probably a good idea because I probably don't want you.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 12, 2010 at 10:49 a.m.

    This study needs to be shared with every high school principal and teacher so it can be forwarded to every student. Then have each and every one write a paper on the topic. Discuss. Then you can let them out of the room. ;)

  6. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, March 12, 2010 at 4:44 p.m.

    I'm amazed at the amount of denial made apparent in these results. Despite warning after warning, it's quite clear that there's a disconnect between users' beliefs and the realities of today's job market. Thanks for pointing it out - yet again!

  7. Barb Chamberlain from Washington State University Spokane, March 12, 2010 at 6:42 p.m.

    Another element that will show up in your online presence: whether or not you accidentally violate laws that pertain to confidentiality for your profession.

    A JAMA study found medical students accidentally violating HIPAA (federal laws about patient privacy--that release you sign at your doctor's office) through postings on Facebook and other social networks:

    We're active in social media spaces on behalf of our campus (Washington State University Spokane), which is growing as a center for education and research in the health professions and health sciences. What we learn in order to do communications in these new spaces will be shared with faculty, staff and students to help make them a little more aware of the dangers as well as the opportunities to establish a professional profile and credibility.

    As far as what you post, there's always the test someone taught me for email: Would you want to see it on a billboard in your mother's neighborhood?

    Director of Communications and Public Affairs
    Washington State University Spokane

  8. Rosanne Gain from Gain - Stovall, Inc., March 15, 2010 at 6:26 p.m.

    When will folks get it? Posting TMI online is comparable to leaving your personal diary on a park bench with the key in it "back in the day."

  9. Barry Fleming from JUICE Pharma Worldwide, March 15, 2010 at 6:58 p.m.

  10. Beverly Payton, m.a., apr from Payton Communications, March 15, 2010 at 7:15 p.m.

    It used to be that only businesses, nonprofits and other organizations had to invest in reputation management. Now, with so much of our lives online, it's something everyone needs to pay attention too. It's amazing that so many still don't "get it."

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