When we think about reputation in the context of hiring, we tend to associate only the positive side of it, giving it the meaning of “being well known”. Reputation however, can be both positive and negative. It can be negative when people perceive you as a disruptive element, irritable or simply lazy, not performing.
No matter how big the industry you are in is, once you’ve worked inside of it for several years, people can track down references about you. When you’re entry level, you don’t worry that much: you’re just getting started, expectations aren’t that high, you might not even stay there long enough to care. But after you pass the first 3 years in a role, it is you who writes the story. You write it by what you do and how you act.
I’m not saying you need to project a fake image. In fact, the more different this image is versus your true self, the more damaging it can be for your mental health. I wrote more about this here.
For interviews, recruiters do basic research. Managers do deeper research. Team leads make the deepest research. The typical recruiter (not a specialised head-hunter for top positions) rarely goes beyond the surface or the mandatory checks imposed by the employer. At the end of the day, they have to put up with a high volume of candidates, the market rotates fast, they have to deal with hundreds of resumes per day, there’s no time to go into details. I’m not trying to excuse here idiotic behaviours like people calling you for a customer support job, because you had one 12+ years ago, ignoring completely what you do now (true story!).
Managers, who usually nominate the short list for interviews, do care about who will join the team and there’s a good chance they might have a connection in most of the important companies. But usually they do a background check only when they have to make a final decision.
Team leads on the other hand are the ones directly impacted. If something goes wrong in the delivery phase, they have to make it work. Therefore, besides getting to examine the candidate up front, they will definitely do the digging to make sure they don’t end up with a lazy bunch in their team.
This background check might consist of a simple call, just to make sure you didn’t do anything illegal at your previous workplace, but more often than not, your future direct boss will have a look also at your social media and / or enquire a bit more. This is where your reputation and projected image step in.
Reputation means what you did, how and where. Were you on a silly project or a tough one? Where? In a highly bs company or in a harsh start-up? Were you the one fighting your teammates or speaking ill of the customer / employer on every occasion or the one encouraging others to stay positive and do the work? There are few cases, where a person is already known, active, seen at different job-related events: people simply know you. These are exceptions, so let’s not go there.
If you think you can be objective enough, try searching your name on the internet and look at your social media public profile (public posts). Do you even exist outside social media? In your social media posts, are you passing for a party animal? A rebel? A highly skilled craftsman? If you can, try to find out how you were perceived by people you’ve had little interaction with, in your previous jobs roles.
It’s up to you if you want to change anything. For your own sake, I don’t encourage you to build a fake image. If you have to, it could mean you’re in the wrong place. If you’re findings are negative, it would be worth to ask yourself why. Coaching might help you. You just have to be aware that your behaviour can have an echo many years later.