Back when I had just finished my master's degree and I was on the "real" job market for the very first time I landed an interview with a law firm. (My MA is in political science with an emphasis in statistical methodology and judicial politics. Yeah, I know.) Midway through the interview, as they explained the details of the job, I blurted out: "Doesn't that get really boring?"
You'll be shocked to find out that I didn't get the job. But, because I didn't write this up and post it on the Internet and badmouth the law firm, until this very moment, this mistake of mine is only remembered by me in those moments when my brain inexplicably brings up embarrassing moments just to keep me humble.
But, it was a dumb mistake. Everyone who has made a dumb mistake, please raise your hand! Everyone's hand up? Yep. We've all done it.
And so, when we search Facebook and Twitter and Google names and look at old newspaper accounts of when people were in college, we find out about these dumb mistakes. It colors our perceptions of candidates. It's all right at our fingertips, and sometimes we reject candidates based on what we find.
Should we? If you subjected yourself to the same level of scrutiny that you subject your job candidates to, would you pass the test? What if your youthful indiscretions were still frozen on the Internet?
We're definitely hurting individuals by not allowing them to move on from their pasts, but are we hurting our businesses as well? Former HR executive and current genealogist Kerry Scott recently shared the story one of her relatives, who served time in prison for forgery and fraud. After being released, he moved and was able to start over. She writes:
Whatever this guy did in his younger years, he clearly pulled it together after his prison stint. He moved west, got married, and got a job. He raised a son who grew up to be a well-respected judge. He made his mistakes, and then he rebooted his life and did better. 100 years ago that was doable.
I wonder how a guy like that would have fared today. In 2013, those newspaper articles would have come up every single time he applied for a job. That wife would have Googled and found his history before the first date. That son who was a judge would have had his opponents digging up this dirt every time he ran for office. America is full of stories of people reinventing themselves, but nowadays, I wonder if that's even possible. Your old high school friends post photos of you on Facebook. People you knew 15 years ago post old inside jokes you don't even remember on your timeline. Your speeding tickets, your divorce, the roommate you had for six months a couple of decades ago...it's all online. Hiding from your past is increasingly hard to do, even if your past doesn't involve prison time.
Now, I caution everyone out there to take control of their online profile. Only post things on the Internet that you will stand behind, even if you think you're posting anonymously. But, when you're hiring, stop and think--am I judging this whole person based on a Facebook post? Why am I doing that? Is this person truly a bad person, or just someone who made a mistake?
Like everyone else has.