I had a great job interview today. I don't know if I will get the job, but the interview itself went well. It's for an online company, and would be a work from home position. Working from home would have it's own challenges but at least I would be able to take my job with me when we move in January.
Before the interview the interviewer already knew a ton about me. About the projects I've done, about my family and more. All sorts of things which I never told him and which certainly weren't on my resume.
Also today my wife interviewed a girl to be our baby sitter. With just her first name and Email address, we were able to track down her livejournal site, her facebook page, photos of her on MySpace and her profile on YouTube. Although the interview went well, based on what I've found about her online I don't think we'll be hiring.
How did my interviewer find out so much about me? How did we find out so much about this babysitter?
I sent my resume from my Gmail. My Gmail users name is the same as the handle I use everywhere online. I also have a domain name or two which match that same handle. And one of those pages links to my wife's blog, etc. etc. etc.
In this case it was beneficial. I have done several projects which piqued the interest of my interviewer. There is also quite a lot of material on my website which showcases my programming abilities, but which aren't things I'd bother to put on a resume.
For the babysitter things didn't end up as well. It started the same way. She replied to our Craigslist posting, listing only her first name in the email. We googled her email address and got nothing. By dropping the '@yahoo.com' portion though we got enough leads to find out more about her. She's had 8 siblings, two died of cystic fibrosis. She says she is a Mormon but her pictures and words say she doesn't practice what she says she believes. (Note: Our baby sitter doesn't have to be Mormon, but we'd rather not have a hypocrite).
Shots in the Dark
Sometimes you can hit a dead end and can't find any more information via Google or other search engines. If that's the case it may be time for a couple of shots in the dark to try to locate the individual. Teens and college students can often be found on Facebook or MySpace if you know their name and school. Brazilians can often be found on Orkut, other South Americans on Hi5. Business professionals can sometimes be found on Linked-In (although most of Linked-In is also indexed by Google it seems).
Hiding Your Tracks
Being found online is a mixed blessing. It makes it possible to reunite with old friends and find out about others before meeting them. It also makes you more vulnerable depending on what you've put online.
If you have material online which you don't want a future employer, date or colleague to see, you need to hide your tracks. The best way to hide your tracks is to create a new online identity strictly for business (or nefarious!) purposes. For example instead of firstname.lastname@example.org I might send my resume in via my new and improved email@example.com address.
If creating a new identity isn't really an option, or if your name is unique enough that someone could search and find you (eg. not John Smith) then you may need to work to remove or hide the existing bad data.
The first thing to do is to remove pictures which don't portray you in a positive light from social networking sites. Make your profile private while you're at it.
Next, do some research on yourself. Make note of what information you can find about yourself via Google, Altavista, MSN Search, Yahoo, etc. For any site which you do have control over (eg. old forum posts which you can still edit) be sure that the content is what you want seen.
For content which you don't want to show up, it's a bit more difficult. You will likely need to do a bit of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for yourself. You will need to create enough new pages with your name (or handle) on them that Google and other search engines will link to those good pages before the bad ones. You can create good pages for yourself by blogging and posting in forums among other things.
Taking care of what of your data shows up online may help you land that next job interview. Be sure to research the person you're interviewing with if possible. And if you're going to be blogging about your salary and financial situation be sure to use an alias so future employers don't know how much they *really* need to pay you.