Anonymity is a thing of the past.

Today it is almost impossible (or very odd) to be completely anonymous online while also being an active member of society.

You might almost never post on social media, but the mere existence (or non-existence) of your accounts reveals something to whoever is looking.

The simple truth is that potential employers can find something out about an applicant with a simple internet search and around 5 minutes of “research” (i.e. stalking). It’s often simply too easy not to.

If they don’t like what they find, your chances of passing the screening stage may be in jeopardy. In fact, publicly-accessible information about you found online can even disqualify you from a job entirely.

Here we reveal what recruiters are looking for when they stalk you online and offer some tips for keeping what’s personal private and making a good digital impression on your future employers.

Are companies really stalking me online?


Recent research suggests that well over half of employers search for candidates online before making hiring decisions or inviting applicants to interview. This trend is also showing signs of increasing, with a 2017 survey putting the figure at 70% – a 10% increase in the proportion of nosy employers the year before. 

Recruitment is a big deal. Hiring the wrong staff can be very expensive when misallocated salary and lost productivity are taken into account, making the decision to do a little digital spying before taking the plunge a bit of a no brainer.

There’s nowhere to hide either. Smaller companies have more to lose and will take every opportunity to ensure new hires fit the bill. While larger companies have more resources to allocate toward the screening process.

Sceptical about whether companies are stalking you online? Well, ask yourself if you’ve ever checked out someone’s Facebook with even less reason than a potential employer might have to look at yours. 

Yeah, I thought so.

What are they looking for?

1. Personality

Personality matters. Your online presence should reflect someone that employers can imagine working with and relate to, someone that will fit in with the rest of their colleagues and culture of the workplace.

This will differ widely across different industries, sectors, and companies. It’s not something you can control or anticipate with too much accuracy.

Potential employers will try and glean whatever information they can about who you are from your profile picture and how you describe yourself to what you follow and interact with most on social media.

2. Professionalism

Not every employer wants their staff to look professional online. But they may insist on hiring people whose online presence is not unprofessional. 

Clients and partners might not appreciate working with someone who doesn’t look the part online. Customers may also find their way to the social media accounts of people who have registered themselves as an employee of the company. 

Social media can, on the other hand, be an opportunity to bolster your credentials. Candidates with a professional focus and clear ambition may be just what a company is looking for.

This may be through what the candidate has written about on more professional platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.

3. Accuracy 

The most basic purpose of online stalking of applicants is to cross-check the information they’ve submitted in their CV or cover letter.

Unsurprisingly, it is not uncommon for applicants to lie or exaggerate about their achievements and skills.

Companies may want to find something to confirm or deny what you’ve claimed in your application, so may not appreciate having to dig deep to find this out. 

Social media fails that might disqualify you from the job

While most of us these days are on social media in one way or another, we don’t all use it in the same way.

Most people are ‘passive’ users and may spend a lot of time using the platforms without posting very much at all. Many users are active, but post and interact for different purposes, and to express different things.

How this relates to a potential employer varies widely depending on who that employer is. But there are nonetheless a host of social media fails to be wary of which might harm your job prospects.

Here are a few of the online personalities your future employer probably doesn’t want you to be.

#1 Missing without a trace

Sadly for those of us who care about online privacy, complete anonymity is more often than not treated with suspicion these days.

Employers may question a candidate they find no trace of online, and may actually ask them to explain why they can’t be found with a simple online search.

This could lead some to question how much they can trust the candidate’s application.

#2 Hiding in plain sight

Social media privacy and security features have been strengthened in recent years, making it easier to appear online as little more than a name and a default profile picture.

In this case, some employers may question why a candidate tends toward anonymity, and in some cases, this preference may seem at odds with the job they are applying for.

Employers may also wonder why it is that they don’t present more information about themselves online, and may suspect they have something to hide.

#3 Keyboard warrior

Many use their digital voice to speak up for the things they believe in.

While you should never be afraid to be yourself online, some employers may veer away from candidates who seem, to their tastes, to display an overtly political personality on social media. 

They might be wary of hiring someone who is attracted to (or attracts) controversy – whether or not this is a fair assessment of who they are.

#4 Party animal

Some things are best kept to yourself.

While it’s hardly likely that a recruiter would expect their next hire to be on their best behaviour outside working hours, candidates who publicly display evidence of just how much they value having a good time may scare them off.

Photos and videos of candidates getting up to no good are likely to go down badly with a potential employer. At the very least, they tell recruiters how much the applicants care about their public image.

#5 Disgruntled employee

A sure-fire way to disqualify yourself from a job is to post publicly about how bad your current or past employers, colleagues, or roles have been.

No company wants to be bad mouthed online, and they will not be keen to take the chance with a candidate who has a track record of venting their grievances to the world.

#6 The troll

If a candidate reveals themselves to behave abusively or aggressively toward others online or to use discriminatory language, they will quite rightly be disqualified from the recruitment process.

How to pass the social media screening process with flying colours

As long as the above personality types don’t apply, you will most likely sail through the screening process.

Here are a few easy steps to ensure you make a good online impression.

  • Be selective. Use privacy settings to ensure that personal information is only visible to people in your network. Make public only the information that you’re comfortable sharing.
  • Stay current. Keep your profile up-to-date. Employers don’t want to know what you were like when you were fifteen (just as you don’t want to be reminded).
  • Hide (or remove) embarrassing photos and posts. Search for yourself while logged out or on a private browser to see what it is you need to hide.
  • Use a neutral and recognisable profile photo and your real name. You want employers to be able to find you, and you don’t want to raise any eyebrows.
  • Maintain at least one account for your professional network. Employers will naturally be drawn toward your LinkedIn, so this can be optimized to make a good impression.