Are employers looking at social network sites to get more information about potential employees and is what they are finding on these sites influencing their decision on whether or not to hire? Yes, they are and yes it is. According to http://www.careerbuilders.com, in a survey done in September, 2008, 20 percent of employers admitted to searching the site and 9 percent said they intended to start. They also found that 24 percent used this information in a decision to hire, while 33 percent used it to cut them out of the running pool (Skinner). By 2009, the same job-search website found that the percentage of employers using these social sites had increased to 45 percent and those intending to start using them increased to 11 percent.
Some of the social network sites that are being searched most are http://www.facebook.com/, http://www.myspace.com/, http://www.linkedin.com/, and http://twitter.com/ and multiple blogging sites. “The top industries most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines include those that specialize in technology and sensitive information: Information Technology (63 percent) and Professional & Business Services (53 percent)” (Grasz). “Unlike the traditional hiring tools such as team interviews, psychological testing, calling past employers, and background checks, social networking sites hold out the promise of revealing the “real applicant.”
Statistics from various surveys, news articles, and anecdotal evidence confirm that there is an increased use of social networking sites to screen candidates.” (Rosen) And there are some instances where companies come across this or that via these sites and have made the decision to fire existing employees. In reviewing these statistics, we can assume some of the advantages and disadvantages to the job seeking candidates, but get a sense that this practice provides some real advantages for the companies in search of adding to their staff. The reality is, there are also some great disadvantages to the employers, if they are not careful. Though this technique is relatively new, it is one being used more and more and will continue for as long as no one speaks up and creates some resistance. The question that is out there, but has not been challenged as of yet—is the use of this information legal?
“One rule to remember: If a website is searched by a background screening firm on behalf of an employer, then consent and certain disclosures is mandated under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)” (Rosen). But, is that the only problem? Many think that the use of the information employers find on social network sites is either an invasion of privacy or discrimination or both. The reality is that most anything on the internet is public. In posting information on these sites, the individual should assume that anyone with access to the internet will have access to their information, and by posting this information, they are knowingly making it public.
One way employers are getting around this, and putting themselves at a legal risk, is they create false sites, pretending to be someone else to keep their own identity from being revealed, and befriend individuals in order to gain access to their page (Rosen). This is also known as pretexting—the practice of deceiving individuals into surrendering personal information for fraudulent purposes (pretexting). By creating false identities and false pages, employers are essentially being intrusive into private information and this behavior can potentially be considered illegal.
One thing companies might want to think about before accessing an applicant’s page is that “though an applicant’s social network profile might contain most of the same information you would find on their resume, these profiles may also share information related to gender, relationship status, sexual preference, home town, age, religion and if they have or plan to have children. When it comes to hiring, the problem is that most of these topics should never be discussed” (Using). In this regard, an employer using this otherwise “off-limits” information, in making their decision whether or not to hire a potential employee, could very well be irrelevant. Just by accessing the candidate’s page, it would be very difficult to prove that such information did not taint their decision, and they would be subjected to accusations of discrimination. “Employers can face liability under federal, state, and local law (e.g., Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, state and local anti-discrimination laws) for using any information learned about an applicant’s protected class status (e.g., race, age, gender, national origin, military status, disability, religion, marital status, and in some states and locales, political affiliation, familial status, sexual orientation, and gender identity) in a hiring decision” (New).
This is unfortunate, because there are other things that can be taken from these sites that are not “protected classes” and can be beneficial to getting a sense of the real person being considered for employment. “Employers viewing an applicant’s profile picture(s), networks, and Pages could obtain information about the applicant’s unprotected characteristics or activities such as illegal drug use, overconsumption of alcohol, tendency to support racist or other discriminatory groups, and/or general poor judgment in maintenance of their public… persona” (New). However, this can be a sticky area for employers and a danger to employees seeking employment.
Employers who claim to view certain groups the candidate is affiliated with can still find themselves scrambling to prove that they did not consider protected information from such groups as gay rights or a specific religion. They may assume that the individual’s interest in such groups means that they themselves are gay or religious. By the same token, certain classes not protected by law can be detrimental to a potential employee. “For example, the hiring manager of a pesticide manufacturer might be interested to know that an applicant supports various entities that promote organic farming practices, or the hiring manager of a non-violent peace organization might be interested to know that an applicant is a fan of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Of course, employers considering an applicant’s potential fit with the culture of the organization should not take into account an applicant’s inclusion in any protected class when determining suitability” (New).
Employment candidates can also deter a company from hiring them in the use of foul language, portraying themselves as being racist or discriminatory themselves by statements posted, regularly bragging about drinking and drugging, and/or making disrespectful or derogatory statements about past or present employers that reflect negatively on the company. Vice President of Human Resources, Rosemary Haefner, at CareerBuilder says, ““Social networking is a great way to make connections with potential job opportunities and promote your personal brand across the Internet. Make sure you are using this resource to your advantage by conveying a professional image and underscoring your qualifications” (Grasz).
There are some precautions that both employers and employees can take in protecting themselves from social network sites having a negative impact on the job seeker or raising legal issues for the employers. Potential employees can utilize privacy settings on their page and be careful who they accept as members of their social list. They can also be aware that their social sites are being sought out to glean more information about their true personality and how they conduct themselves on a regular basis; in this regard they can be more careful about what they say, how they say it, and sometimes just not saying certain things at all. If they are serious about wanting the job that they seek, here are some statistics that they can think about that makes some of this clearer in what employers look for and consider:
“Job seekers are cautioned to be mindful of the information they post online and how they communicate directly with employers. Thirty-five percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate. The top examples cited include:
- Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information – 53 percent
- Candidate posted content about them drinking or using drugs – 44 percent
- Candidate bad-mouthed their previous employer, co-workers or clients – 35 percent
- Candidate showed poor communication skills – 29 percent
- Candidate made discriminatory comments – 26 percent
- Candidate lied about qualifications – 24 percent
- Candidate shared confidential information from previous employer – 20 percent
Job seekers are also encouraged to leverage social media when advertising their skills and experience. Eighteen percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them to hire the candidate. The top examples include:
- Profile provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality and fit – 50 percent
- Profile supported candidate’s professional qualifications – 39 percent
- Candidate was creative – 38 percent
- Candidate showed solid communication skills – 35 percent
- Candidate was well-rounded – 33 percent
- Other people posted good references about the candidate – 19 percent
- Candidate received awards and accolades – 15 percent” (Grasz).
If an employer wants to supplement traditional hiring practices with a Facebook search, the following is a suggested approach for using [social networking sites] in hiring decisions:
- Screen applicants in a uniform manner. Create a list of the lawful information about applicants desired from the [social network] search. After these search criteria are compiled, screen all applicants using the lawful criteria. If employers do not have the time, resources, or inclination to screen all applicants in this way, they must be consistent with any subsets of applicants screened (i.e., choose to screen applicants for certain positions, levels, or grades of employment, rather than choosing to screen applicants based on subjective criteria).
- Have a neutral party (e.g., an employee in a non-decision-making role) conduct the [social network site] search, filtering out any protected class information about the applicant and reporting only on information that may lawfully be considered in making the hiring decision.
- Consider searching [social networking sites] only after the initial in-person interview with the applicant has taken place (i.e., after the employer has at least seen the applicant’s visible protected characteristics, thus eliminating the possibility that the hiring decision was based on those same characteristics found in the[social network site] search).
- As always, employers must be able to point to a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the hiring decision, with documentation to support the decision. Employers who are considering making an employment decision based on information found in [social networking sites] should always consult with employment counsel prior to doing so (New).
Yes, employers are using information, and in some cases, pictures to influence their decision of whether or not to hire a job candidate. Whether you are the employer or the potential employee, this information on such use can be invaluable in the future continued use of social networking sites. Employees who do not get the job often do wonder why and this new tool used by employers may be the answer to that question. In knowing this information, job seekers can better prepare and present themselves for the positions they want to obtain. Employers can also find this information useful in being careful to not overstep legal boundaries, and essentially prevent losing the use of this valuable pool of information. How this all pans out for everybody involved, only the future can tell.
Grasz, Jennifer. “45% Employers Use Facebook-Twitter to Screen Job Candidates – Oregon Business News.” Business & Finance News – Oregon Business News. 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://oregonbusinessreport.com/2009/08/45-employers-use-facebook-twitter-to-screen-job-candidates/>.
pretexting. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved March 08, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pretexting
“New Facebook Privacy Settings Are Both a Goldmine and a Minefield for Employers.” Nixon Peabody. 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nixonpeabody.com/publications_detail3.asp?ID=3065>.
Rosen, Les. “Caution Using Search Engines MySpace or Facebook for Hiring Decisions May Be Hazardous to Your Busin.” Employment Screening Services, Criminal Background Check, Employee Background Screening. Employment Screening Resources, June 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/Caution-Using-Search-Engines-MySpace-or-Facebook-for-Hiring-Decisions-May-Be-Hazardous-to-Your-Business.php>.
Skinner, Carrie-Ann. “Employers Admit Checking Facebook Before Hiring – PCWorld Business Center.” Reviews and News on Tech Products, Software and Downloads – PCWorld. PC Advisor, 14 Sept. 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/151044/employers_admit_checking_facebook_before_hiring.html>.
“Using Facebook for Hiring.” Human Resource Materials, Software and Employee Recordkeeping from G.Neil. 20 Mar. 2009. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://www.gneil.com/library/Using-Facebook-for-Hiring>.
- Using Social Networking to Help Your Career (leavingthepublicsector.net)
- Who Has Access to Your Social Networking Sites? (buzfairy.com)
- Jobseeker-friendly social networking with BeKnown (career-advice.monster.co.uk)