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How recruiters use OSINT and how it impacts jobseekers – an interview with Rose Farrell

Today I want to focus on the practical aspect of using OSINT – in recruitment.

Recruiters and jobseeker profilers often get essential information about the candidates from browsing open source records, be it social media, blog posts or online communities.

I decided to talk to somebody who not only uses OSINT professionally for those reasons, but is also very passionate about digital privacy and security, technology, IT and information security in general.

Over half a year ago I was in the process of transitioning from a long term law enforcement career into the private sector.

During my jobseeking days at that time I was lucky to find Rose Farrell, a senior recruiter with nineDots.

From day one she struck me as somebody who is not your usual recruiter, who thinks and operates outside the proverbial box, who is not afraid of breaking down barriers and taking a non-standard approach to sourcing candidates for tech and infosec jobs.

And as it turned out, she is pretty good at OSINT and very clued in when it comes to digital privacy!

So let’s hear it…

Culture fit is important and most companies don't want to hire someone who is a total dick, no matter how good they are. Most people are terrible at writing up their own skills and just copy / paste their job description and call it a day.
Rose Farrell

When asked who are you, what do you say?

I am a huge nerd using a career in recruitment as a vector for talking about technology with other nerds. I love to read up on technology, make bad puns about software development, and obsess over finding the perfect person/job combos.

How long have you worked in recruitment? 

I’ve been a tech recruiter since 2013 and I currently recruit mostly for the Irish market but also across the EU, South America, and the US.

What is your take on digital privacy?

I’m extremely passionate about digital security and digital privacy too. Making sure my candidates don’t have to give up all their personal information just to find a job is something that is hugely important to me.

What is Open Source Intelligence to you and how does it apply to recruitment?

OSINT is anything that’s open info on the web. So social media profiles for the most part. In a literal sense, recruitment is mostly OSINT now (although the industry doesn’t call it that).

We’d mostly source on LinkedIn and then on other platforms more tailored to the sector we’re recruiting in.  Obviously, I put up adverts for jobs and I get a lot of my candidates through my personal network (I work pretty hard on that!) but direct sourcing is a major part of my day.

I spend a lot of time thinking of ways I might find candidates that other recruiters cannot find and to find people who would love the job I have to offer.

Without sounding too arrogant, I don’t need to use as much OSINT as I used to – I worked really hard on my personal brand and network, and I’m very very good at sourcing directly. So I don’t need to source across the web as much as I have done in the past. (also GDPR makes me feel guilty)

When screening potential candidates, do you look at social media platforms? If yes, which ones and why?

I don’t look at social media so much, to be honest. If I have a really tough role to recruit for, I might look over someone’s Twitter, if it’s linked to their LinkedIn. Since GDPR came in, I have to be a lot more careful with how I utilise OSINT. Someone does not have a Twitter account for the purpose of seeking a job so I feel a little edgy about using it that way.

Also, social media might not mean anything at all. Some of the best engineers I know have no social media footprint. People represent themselves differently on different platforms.

A lack of content on GitHub might mean that you’re not interested in upskilling or it might mean you have 3 kids under 6!

Based on the availability of open source data, how do you profile candidates?

I profile candidates based on skills firstly. I look at the companies they’ve worked in.

I have good market knowledge – I know the hiring bars of most companies so if someone is in company X, it’s an indication of their skills. (no guarantee tho)

I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a candidate who writes instructions to recruiters in their profile who wasn’t very hard work and 100% not worth it in the end! So I look at how they talk about themselves.

Culture fit is important and most companies don’t want to hire someone who is a total dick, no matter how good they are.

However, most people are terrible at writing up their own skills and just copy/paste their job description and call it a day.

Most of my screening happens after I start talking to someone, to be honest!

What is the worst type of a thing you have found on a candidate that immediately disqualified him/her from the recruitment process?

The worst thing ever? 🙂 I have definitely found a number of your classic racists / misogynists / TERFs (that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”).

I saw a guy once whose Twitter was just nothing but “ugh, I had an interview today, everyone in the interview was a wanker” and “I hate my job, I did nothing all day”. Obviously, he was going through a bad time in his life but this is not a great look for possible employers!

The worst ever though was someone who posted on a forum board about how they personally hated me because I rejected them for a job. I was a member of that forum anyway and read that particular thread every now and then (something like “terrible job experiences”) and recognised the scenario immediately.

He name called my agency and was really detailed about what had happened. It was in my first 3 months of recruitment too!

This person applied to a job after this – I gave them a second chance figuring “we all have bad days” and they no-showed for an interview. I have since seen them talking on the same forum about how much recruiters suck. So I have rejected them for every job since.

I wouldn’t subject my clients to working with someone like that, they’re just obviously not very nice.

They apply to stuff about once a quarter. …I don’t think they actually tell one recruiter from the other so it’s not personal but obviously not a great person.

Bearing in mind that whatever goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, what are the dos and don’ts when it comes to a candidate’s digital footprint?

Do’s and don’ts: I think you should do what you want within the boundaries of accepting that certain jobs might be closed to you because of it.

If you work in Dev and post a lot about (say) how Amazon is evil and the worst thing ever – you’re probably not going to get that crazy high paying job in AWS.

It’s your personality so don’t suppress it. I strongly feel that if you sanitise what you post to get a job, you’ll end up unhappy. However, if you need a job for, like, food and rent – then reconcile with yourself the sacrifice.

People could take anything on your social media as an example that you’re too weird/something to hire. If you’re not posting hateful vitriol against some group of people or a lot of hardcore porn, it’s probably fine.

If you suspect a candidate is lying to you, how do you corroborate or verify the information they give you?

If I think they’re lying to me, I ask them.

I’ve had situations where CV says one thing, LinkedIn says another. Usually if someone is lying to me, it’s going to be “I am not interviewing in another company” or “I am definitely interested in this job and not leveraging it to get a raise in my current job” and they’re not tweeting about that!

It’s easier just to ask, in a very nice, non accusing way, rather than going mad with the dorking. That way lies madness.

What kind of an online presence can be detrimental to a candidate who is trying to find his/her dream job?

As I said above – active discrimination against any group of humans can be detrimental to your career. If you’re posting stuff about how you hate your job, that’ll read badly. Common sense stuff.

Aside from that, it’s your personality. You be you. Companies want to hire you, not robots. (unless they want robots, in which case, they don’t care about your personality)

What digital privacy advice would you give to jobseekers? What should they be aware of?

I wrote a blog post about this once!

But generally:

Don’t post unnecessary personal information on your CV/linkedin profile/etc.

Be mindful of where your CV is going. If you apply to a job on a job platform – is it keeping your CV to show to recruiters?

Don’t put reference details on your CV – keep control of when they are called.

Keep a spreadsheet of everywhere you apply to and if/when they respond.

When you are finished and have your new job, use GDPR to remove your details from any company/recruitment agency where you do not want it to be any more.

Then note that you did that so if they contact you again, you can smack them down!

Do you have any final thoughts before we conclude?

There’s a lot that recruiters can do and do… do.

There are extensions to Chrome that produce an email address from a Linkedin profile – I just don’t use them.

I prefer to talk to people and use my human skills to weed out the unsuitable people – it’s faster than dorking 🙂

I will give you some final tips:

You should look at this, it’s sort of an OSINT game for recruiters! > put your username in the xxxx and if you haven’t set your account to private, there go your details! use this to get an email address from Linkedin

2 thoughts on “How recruiters use OSINT and how it impacts jobseekers – an interview with Rose Farrell”

  1. Agree with all of this as a recruiter. I would add that the inherent nature of Boolean searching is good for “structuring” unstructured internet data. Using search engines to research disinformation, I’ve found Boolean logic complementary to sorting the wheat from the chaff in terms of strategic narratives, their sources, etc. As a profession, recruitment is also quite focused on psychology, messaging, influence, etc. All things which complement disinformation research and efforts or generally good information hygiene online. I think the kind of informational structuring and understanding which comes with the territory of internet-based recruitment does complement OSINT. Nice to see others think so too.

  2. shehan sahabandu

    I agree with your points. This is a good read. I, myself am an osint enthusiast using its power to enhance my recruitment capacity. Thank you for helping me. Regards

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