An unassuming chap from Virginia named John Lewis hit the headlines this month. He was finally rewarded for correcting the many hundreds of mistaken Twitter followers who confused him with the department store, as @johnlewisretail promised him a gift. Similarly, American Will H Smith, known on Twitter as @whsmith, raised a wry smile as he was accused of being a 'wally' for getting annoyed with confused followers for thinking he was a British high street store. "What's a wally?" he asked.
The importance of your digital profile can't be overlooked. It can propel you into the stratosphere of cyberfame within minutes, as the two chaps above know well. More realistically, a complete, professional, grammatically-correct digital profile can give you a huge advantage when it comes to recruitment. Research shows that 92% of employers are using social networks for recruiting: 89% of recruiters have hired through LinkedIn. Conversely, and somewhat surprisingly, poor spelling and grammar creates a worse impression of you than the sharing of your latest drunken exploits, according to the same survey: 54% of recruiters had a negative reaction to grammar and spelling mistakes whilst only 47% of recruiters admitted being put off by mentions of alcohol.
Admissions officers at colleges and universities are also checking applicants' social networks. An article in the New York Times cites research which reveals that 31% of admissions officers had viewed applicants' social profiles.
Think carefully: your digital profile isn't just about your own pages on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but includes any comments on friends' status updates, retweets, those daft quiz results you've shared, when you've read a Kindle ebook and shared your feedback on it, when you've bought something on Amazon and shared it across your networks. Even donating to your marathon-running friend through Just Giving and writing "Run Forrest run!" or suchlike will appear if your future employer Googles you. Comments made online - even outside the workplace - can impact your career. Everything you do online leaves a cyber trail. Potential employers can get a pretty clear picture of you from your digital profile. How accurate this is depends only on you. Conversely if you don't have much of a digital presence, you might find you struggle to get a job, not only because those with strong profiles are way ahead of you, but because frankly it'll look as if you've got something to hide.
Mining social networks isn't the only 'new' way for employers to take the guesswork out of recruitment. Today's tech-savvy recruiters have, quite literally, the world at their fingertips. Unified communications platforms have broken down geographic barriers and opened up a pool of talent. When we looked to fill vacancies at our Customer Service Centre in Somerset, we recruited for the majority of positions from the local area. For some of the roles, though, we looked further afield. High definition videoconferencing provided us with a great way of conducting real-time interviews with candidates in other countries, without having to step on a plane. We're not alone: 63% of HR Directors have conducted job interviews via video. And integrating video with other unified communications tools such as Microsoft Lync and VoIP makes recruitment truly collaborative as interviewers can join from their desktops or devices, speeding up the decision-making process.
Cloud Computing is influencing recruitment, too. Businesses are moving HR applications to the cloud which means that recruiters can access candidate's data wherever they are, from any device. As recruiters become 'always on', and candidates' data always available, we've created a 24 hour-a-day job market.
Whether or not all this is ethical is another, hotly debated, matter entirely. Do fourteen year-olds who are allowed access to Facebook think that what they're posting could influence their future career? Probably not. And to what extent does a prospective employer have the right to nose around someone's online profile? If they want to get a clear and honest picture of a candidate, they can use the references provided and actually speak to the person the candidate suggests.
Then there's the issue of digital separation: remember that 7 million or 14% of UK adults have never used the Internet. Only a third of over 75s have used the Internet, according to the office of national statistics. 1 million over 65s - that's one in ten - in the UK are still working, so by the very nature of always-on recruitment, surely we're disadvantaging the very people who most need the employment? Organisations like Working Links and Ingeus are taking significant steps in extending the reach of technology to those seeking jobs and training skills, and this is going some way towards squeezing the digital divide.
Technology has changed the recruitment landscape without question, for recruiters and candidates alike, providing intelligence and speeding up the decision-making process. From this evolves a Pandora's Box of issues surrounding our right to privacy, and our ability to control our digital footprint (for control it we can: managing cookies, making ourselves familiar with privacy policies, downloading tools such as Google Alarm which alerts you to when your data is being sent to servers). We just need to remember that, whilst many of us are immersed in technology, others haven't yet put a toe in the water.