Explaining the Data Double: Confessions and Self-Examinations in Job Recruitments

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Anna Hedenus Christel Backman


The practice of cybervetting—i.e., online background checks of a jobseeker’s ‘data double’—is considered to be a valuable tool in the recruitment process by an increasing amount of employers. As a consequence, jobseekers lose some control over what aspects of their past, personal interests or private life they will share with the employer. Moreover, jobseekers are expected to confess, explain and contextualize unfavorable information about them if they want to be perceived as employable. This study aims to show how cybervetting recruiters encourage and anticipate such confessions, and use the outcomes to evaluate jobseekers’ honesty and capacity for self-reflection. The analysis is based on qualitative interviews with 36 Swedish human resource professionals, hiring managers and employers, and guided by Foucault’s theoretical work on self-examinations, along with the confessional culture and its related concepts. We argue that confessions about information found on the internet are an important factor of what we label ‘online employability’: jobseekers’ capability to sanitize, keep track of and explain their data doubles. Hence, as the recruiter can examine a jobseeker’s private spheres, cybervetting is a surveillance practice with direct consequences on recruitment as well as clear effects on jobseekers’ self-examinations and interactions with human resources personnel.

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