Social Media And The Job Hunt: Friends Or Foes

May 17, 2012

You’ve heard the stories – eager applicants with stellar resumes walking out of interviews feeling as though they’ve “nailed it”, only to find out the job was offered to someone else. “How did that happen? What could I have done differently?” they ask.

Have you checked your Facebook profile lately?

Well over 50% of employers are now checking applicant’s Facebook accounts, as a routine part of the job selection process. In fact in some areas it is done more regularly than reference checks. Shocking? Hardly. The fact is, with so many qualified applicants competing in a world of limited opportunities, hiring decisions often come down to the “soft” qualities – like character. It has always been the case that employers make hiring decisions based on subjective criteria – their assessment of how well an individual will “fit” within an organization. Today, there is a wealth of information about “character”, which we all provide willingly on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other similar social media outlets.

Recent studies suggest the following reasons why employers do not extend job offers, after reviewing a candidate’s social media profile:

  • posting inappropriate or provocative information or photographs
  • posting content about an applicant’s drug or alcohol habits
  • criticizing a previous employer, co-worker, or customer/client/patient
  • lying about qualifications
  • making racial or other discriminatory comments
  • exhibiting poor communication skills
  • sharing confidential information from previous employers.

Employers most likely to search social media sites are those in the technology and professional (eg. medical, legal, educational) or business sectors.

Many people are offended by this activity (prospective employers “mining” online information), and view it as an infringement of their privacy. While there are complex legal issues involved, and evolving, the fact is, employers have ALWAYS wanted to know what “kind of person” they are hiring, and would rely on any information they could get about an applicant’s character. The only difference is that today the applicants themselves are making information about their “private” selves essentially public – as if posting it on a billboard.

The answer is simple – do not sabotage your job hunt by indiscriminate postings – rather, use your Facebook page, and other social media tools, to support your job hunt. Simply put:

  • clean up your Facebook page (and anything else you use) BEFORE you begin your job hunt
  • keep your complaints offline – ensure that anything connected to your cyber-self is POSITIVE
  • use Facebook to highlight your recent accomplishments, and associations and activities which put you in a positive light.
  • remember that others can see your Facebook “friends”, so it might be wise to use some discretion in vetting your friends’ list.

If all of this is too much work, at least update your security settings. Be mindful, however, that a practice has developed in certain areas where employers are actually demanding that applicants give employers complete access (passwords, etc.) to an applicant’s social media sites, as part of the hiring process. While there are legal concerns with this practice, that may be little consolation to an applicant who is asked for this information during an interview.

Be practical, and be proactive. Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool, but it can also wreak havoc on your job hunt. This is one area where you do have considerable control – exercise it wisely.