Analyzing Your Candidate’s Digital Footprint

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Sponsored by The Social Index.

Fiona McLean is a seasoned HR practitioner with experience from both the UK and Australia. She is also the founder of The Social Index, a service that analyses the digital footprint of job applicants in a very transparent way.

Have a listen to our chat below, keep reading for a summary and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us about The Social Index and what you do there?

We are a reputation business. We help candidates and companies understand the digital assets around skills, experience, network, and all the things that matter in a job role on social media. We analyze that into an infographic report that both the candidate and the company can use to have a better interview.

Why is analyzing a candidate’s social footprint important?

From a company perspective, you’re looking at a culture fit. It’s the absolute goal in any recruitment process to find that candidate who fits your culture because that person is very likely to be more productive, get on better with most of your team, and be able to work very well with clients, which drives revenue. The other side of that is, they have the potential for a long term career. What you get with analyzing someone’s social footprint is another data set for the interview. You’ve got a CV, you’ve done a couple of interviews, but there’s still an area of grey; how will they fit? What are they like? How will they respond to change? What sort of interests do they have? Will they fit with our client needs or our team and company culture? That’s where social media’s fantastic. It gives you evidence of all of that. It does it in a way (and certainly with the platform we’ve designed) that protects someone’s privacy because we only look at what’s in the public domain, but put it in context of the workplace.

How does analyzing a candidate’s footprint impact employer brand?

We’ve found there are searches on both the candidate’s side and the company’s side. My concern is that they’re unstructured, and some companies are really struggling with how to find out more about a candidate that’s relevant without opening themselves up to a whole range of discriminatory claims and biased decision making because you’re seeing maybe one or two comments out of context. We’ve taken away that nervousness about what do you know about me? How can I trust that you’ve done a good and effective due diligence review of me? And the candidate is better prepared for that interview too because you’ve both got the same information. So, we manage the privacy elements. We manage the areas that are unrelated for work and we filter out things that just don’t matter. If you’re going to the beach every weekend and you’re an accountant, that’s really not going to matter too much to whether you could do your job Monday to Friday well. However, if you’re in Australia and you’re working for a surf company and you go to the beach every weekend, that’s a very powerful connection to the culture of that organization so they may well filter that in. We also only do it once the interview process has started, and there’s already been a relationship established.

Can’t HR just run their own Google searches?

One of the first a major pitfall of running your own Google search is that you’ve got to check that the person doing the search is actually skilled in understanding what’s relevant for the role, that they’re going beyond page two of Google, and that they’re able to understand how to get through and understand a footprint. How does someone’s Facebook profile line up with their LinkedIn profile, and line up with their CV. That’s quite a complex role, which could be a three to four day piece of research work if you do it properly.

So, there’s lots of risks in doing that. Then you’ve got someone looking at it through the lens of, “Well, I might be in my twenties and I’m looking at candidates in their forties.” So, there’s a life experience gap there. Or vice-versa. They may never have had any sales experience. So, they’re missing some of the nuances of a sales person’s network or a sales person’s extroverted style on social media, which isn’t a massive plus in some roles where they’re doing a lot of client entertainment. But if the person reviewing them isn’t seeing it through that lens, you could end up missing on a great candidate. And there’s a lot of really great stuff deeper and wider once you’ve got consent to actually go further. So, I think the risks of doing a Google search are now much greater with the volume of data that’s out there than a couple of years ago.

What happens after I connect and verify my accounts?

We take between 24 to 48 hours just to check all the announcers are working. We want to make sure someone’s getting the best interview at the end of it. That’s really a form of us verifying your identity to make sure we’re actually looking at you as the individual. So when we do a wider Google search we can say to you and a potential company, “This is absolutely the right candidate, and this is the key assets and digital strength of their footprint”. We can be assured that this is the right person for the role, and the right person we’re reviewing. That’s one of the challenges when you do a Google search. How do you know that this is actually the person you’re looking at? We do a bit of analysis to make sure that it’s the right person. We can identify where there might be similar names and see other people onsite with both the candidate and the company. These are other people that look the same but we can absolutely assure you they’re not in any way associated with the report we’re doing. And then after that, you get an infographic report that breaks down your digital footprint into where you spend your time on social media, your time that you post and when you post. For a lot of communications, recruitment, and sales roles, you’d be online nine to five. And that’s a real plus. If you’re an auditor or an accountant or a lawyer, potentially you’re not online during those times. So, we tend to see different patterns of engagement. Then we look at your career timeline and really sort of start to celebrate and showcase where you’ve been active online in publishing, where you’ve been active in being promoted, where that’s visible, language skills, international experience, wider interests. And really do a really strong showcasing of the skills that you’re talking about online so that on one page, a candidate and a company can be really prepared for that interview and pick out the stuff that really matters rather than trying to read a three page CV.

What happens when you can’t identify an individual online?

It hasn’t happened often but it does seem to be where we’ve had some mixed results on profiles. Those who have been under 35 generally have a fairly strong footprint on a number of platforms. They’ve grown up with it and are very comfortable with it. But those over 35, it’s very role dependent; what their industry and role has driven. It can be really driven by potentially some of the regulations in those industries and potentially just the style of the individual getting comfortable with those platforms. So, where we do the report, we’ve obviously already verified through the email link and a mobile number that it’s them. If they then don’t have a footprint on any of those platforms, we can verify that both by them saying, “Here’s the link. I don’t have an account. I don’t have a profile on those pages.” That’s fine. And second, we do a secondary search to make sure that there is any other publications that might be out there, any other links of people who might have liked a photo of them online can pop up as well. So, that can see the extent of where they might be present online, but it’s very much a limited outcome. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for some roles and some industries as some areas really do say you can’t be online in certain platforms. But, increasingly, for senior executives to not have a footprint on at least one place, for example LinkedIn, is becoming problematic in terms of you being the face and representation of the brand of the organization.

How do employers feel if they can’t find a candidate online?

I think the survey we saw last year showed that over 40% of people won’t get a job or an interview if they can’t be found online. So, increasingly, people are looking at it as a way of building trust before you walk in the room. For a candidate, it’s a great way to control that first impression because if you are being searched online, even informally, someone’s getting a first impression of who you are. And so you want to make sure that’s the best one you can.

What is the general feeling of candidates being scrutinized on social?

It’s been positive. There’s been quite rightly questions around privacy. The biggest question we get is, “I keep my activities online separate”. So, for example, my LinkedIn is all for professional connections, Facebook’s private. Then the next question is, “Well, when you look at your Facebook network, are there any work colleagues on there?” And they said, “Of course. I’m friends with my boss. I’m friends with my team. We go out socially.” And that happens across the major markets that I’ve worked in and we’re working in now. What we find is people treat those connections differently, but they are a mix of work and professional. Once we show them that it’s an infographic report, where the data’s put into context for what’s needed in the workplace, that privacy issue goes away and we actually find them very engaged. It actually becomes a really nice coaching tool for them to think about and adapt to. I don’t have to worry about privacy because it’s captured in our third party relationship between them and the organization.

Are there any ethical considerations for employers?

We mitigate them through the consent piece. I’m a big fan of privacy. I think for a great candidate experience, you need to get consent. You need to tell people why you need this information. It’s a simple process you would do for any other business activity. So, when you’re hiring people, and when it comes to business, I don’t see why you would do anything differently. And when it comes to ethics, it’s about how you’re making decisions. What door are you using to make a decision? That’s one of the biggest challenges with social media. There is so much data and it’s interesting but it’s not always relevant. I think the challenge HR functions face is more data isn’t necessarily better data. So, we take that multitude of unstructured, creative work that people are putting out online and put it into a framework that HR teams, business leaders, and candidates can use consistently to have a better decision. They can compare candidates, and individuals can compare the growth of their career profile online over time.

Why invest in a product that analyzes digital footprint?

Your career is your biggest asset. It is the source of financial security. It gives you a sense of purpose. So, understanding how you present yourself gives you more choices, and opportunity to connect with people. There’s fantastic research actually around how you build your network and having a wider network and creating new experiences. It’s particularly important at this time as workplaces are changing. The more varied the network is, the more opportunity you have to navigate that really well. So, understanding that in the first instance is a fantastic way to start building and planning your career. Even if it’s only simply saying ‘I’m really comfortable where I am now and this is all I need to do’. But for those who are also thinking I want to build a career that let’s me retire when I’m 42 or I want to go and be the CEO, you need to start thinking about that and actually understanding how you can do that. Without investment of an executive coach, or having to work in large corporates, this is a single tool that can help you do that. From a company side branch, it all comes to a lining an individual’s reputation to your company brand. And when that works, it’s fantastic. You’ll attract more people into your organization. You’ve got motivated and engaged employees who are more productive. But you can also know that you’ve got the right fit to help that person realize some of those career aspirations as well.

What companies are doing it right?

We’ve been working with some outplacement companies who were helping a range of individuals, particularly middle to senior executives transition their careers to building their understanding of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Recruitment firms are definitely coming on board to really be assured on the candidates they’re presenting to their clients. They’re using the profile as a way of really selling the candidate’s assets by saying this person’s network is of value because we’ve done some deep job analysis. They’re getting a stronger story when representing these candidates to companies.

Direct companies of all sizes are coming to us too. Graduate recruitment teams are starting to really embrace social footprint analyzing, particularly given the audience they’re working with are very familiar with it. So, we do some work in there just to make sure there’s nothing coming into their recruitment process that is going to be a barrier to hiring a great graduate. And others are using it for their talent cycle, so when they’re looking at succession planning, and when they’re looking at growing their high potential teams or identifying them, they’re giving them this tool as a support platform. It’s not about being overly politically correct. It’s about being authentic. So, it is about showcasing some of those personal interests and things that you would naturally share in the workplace. So, anything that’s too sterile is also problematic. You want a personality and so this is where we’re helping some of those talent programs really develop the individuals.

What’s going to happen next?

We’re looking at reputation. It’s very much the core of what we’ve been doing, creating a way of talking about that in a really simple, structured way for an interview process. So, if you’ve got a great reputation, you can build trust with an individual and with a business, and you can usually have the choice of career that you want, and the choice of candidate that you need for your business. So, we’re very excited about where our reputation is going to.

Find out more at and follow Fiona Twitter @McLean_Fi.


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