Usually, the way we found out about this was to use a reference-checking service. The client would engage the firm, and the firm would call the client's references and pretend to be a prospective employer verifying information.
The results were sometimes shocking -- the former boss who promised a great recommendation started out by praising my client, but made several backhanded comments that would put doubts in the mind of any prospective employer. Almost as bad were references who had promised to vouch for the candidate, but when asked, wouldn't give information beyond "name, rank, and serial number" (understandable if the company policy prohibited providing more than that information ... but telling the former employee one thing and then doing another isn't helpful...).
Now, our clients have to be concerned about social media background checks. Now, any resume writer worth his or her salt tells their clients "What happens on the Internet DOES NOT stay on the Internet" -- but every day on Facebook, I still see things that make me cringe.
Even if you have your privacy settings locked down, the background checks will still find stuff... you're probably not as protected as you think you are.
For an introduction to the social media background check, read this article on Gizmodo. It's eye-opening stuff ... but with some good hints to pass along to our clients.
First of all, the author notes that these checks screen for just a handful of things: aggressive or violent acts or assertions, unlawful activity, discriminatory activity (for example, making racist statements), and sexually explicit activity.
But more importantly, he notes how candidates can minimize the digital dirt that is unearthed about them:
It only uses the data an employer gives it to run a search. This tends to be standard issue information from your resume. Your name, your university, your email address and physical location. Which means that, ultimately, you are the one supplying all the data for a background check. Because you are the one who supplies that data to your employer. And that means you should be smart about what kinds of contact information you put on your resume.
Great advice -- including the suggestion that most of us give to clients already -- to start a fresh e-mail address that they use for their job search only. Just another thing to think about when giving clients advice about online reputation management.