The good, the bad and the ugly
And therein lies both your potential downfall or opportunity – both for employers and job seekers.
Employers can find information that will support their decision to interview or hire a candidate. Social media entries may reveal additional professional qualifications or characteristics that show that person will be a good fit for the job and the company. The candidate may have displayed exceptional communication or writing skills, research ability or creativity that are attractive points for a hiring manager in making a decision.
However, there is a risk in using online information when screening and selecting candidates. You may gain knowledge you don’t really want at this stage of the process. Why? Because that information may reveal information about membership in a protected class. The risk enters the picture if you reject a candidate – for perfectly legitimate reasons – but having that information may open you to a charge of discrimination. Would you be able to prove that your knowledge of the candidate’s race, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy status, marital status, disability, sexual orientation (some state and local jurisdictions), gender expression or identity (some state and local jurisdictions), or genetic information did not play a part in your decision? You can’t unsee something you’ve already seen.
Standard advice for formally using social media for background screening is to have someone not involved in the decision-making process conduct the screening, and then filter out any information related to membership in a protected class, only passing on information that can lawfully be used in the hiring process. You should have a good policy and guidelines about the kind of information you intend to look for in these searches. Ask yourself why are you looking at social media? Why is anything there relevant to the position or to your company? Many of the background screening companies also offer social media screening as an option in addition to the standard criminal history search. You can then at least remove yourself from that part of the chain and reduce your risk.
It’s also vitally important to include your managerial and supervisory staff in communicating this policy. Even if you, as an HR pro know the rules, they may not.
What about the job seeker? Opportunities exist for you to highlight positive aspects of your experience and background. Do use your LinkedIn or Facebook posts as a way to highlight activities, both professional and volunteer, that would be attractive to an employer. Join groups related to your career interests. Pick a few and add intelligent comments or start conversations that might highlight your knowledge in those areas. It’s ok to post about your hobbies, as long as you don’t overdo it. Showing a well-rounded profile is not a bad thing.
But remember, if it’s on the internet…………….it’s out there, regardless of your privacy settings, it’s not ever really private. Someone may (and often will) share your posts.
According to the survey, the top types of information that caused an employer to reject a candidate included:
- Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information – 46 percen
- Information about candidate drinking or using drugs – 43 percent
- Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc. – 33 percent
- Candidate bad-mouthed previous company or fellow employee – 31 percent
- Poor communication skills – 29 percent
Here are some tips for both job seekers and current employees (this includes supervisors and managers!):
- If you’re looking for a job, it’s really best to keep your public profile clean. Squeaky clean. Don’t post the photos from your wild weekend at the beach with the beer in both hands, in your underwear. Seriously, it happens. While many businesses don’t search the internet for information about applicants or current employees, some do and you really want them to find only good, or at least neutral, information about you and your personal and professional activities.
- Don’t make insensitive jokes, don’t use foul language.
- Don’t badmouth your current, or a former, employer or company.
- Adjust your Facebook settings so a potential employer can’t see those party photos. Better yet, don’t put those potentially compromising photos up there at all! (Do you really want your mother to see them?)
- Take care in choosing your profile photo. (No more pouty face mirror shots!) You don’t have to wear a suit and use a professional photographer, but if you’re looking for a job, keep it as appropriate as possible.
- Check your spelling and use proper grammar. Really. Several studies have shown recruiters view poor spelling and grammar almost as negatively as that drunken escapade at the beach. Never use "textspeak" on LinkedIn. In fact, you shouldn't use textspeak anywhere except in a text.