Should You Judge Job Applicants by Their Facebook Page?

If your latest crop of job applicants has unsophisticated taste in restaurants, and aren’t photogenic, does that make them poor choices for new positions at your company? When I think of the posts that come up on my Facebook newsfeed, I don’t think I can see using social media as a viable way to screen job candidates.

My own page, which I rebelliously keep entirely public (photos, everything—waiting eagerly for my stalker), and which you’re free to look up HERE, has nothing I’m ashamed of, and nothing that is personal. No private revelations, no personal tragedies (other than my mother’s death a few years ago), nothing I wouldn’t mind sharing with a total stranger. Yet I wonder whether a company considering hiring me would judge me for things I can’t even imagine, such as my taste in musicals. I recently was “checked in” by a friend at the latest Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which we attended together. It was great, but definitely not a trendy choice. Would an avant-garde company shirk from hiring me because I didn’t choose a more progressive, new musical? Who knows? As I mentioned previously on this blog, I once was judged harshly for carrying the wrong bag to an interview.

I thought of all this today when I saw a study in my inbox noting the rising number of employers using social media to screen candidates. The national survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder, and included responses from 2,186 hiring managers and Human Resource professionals and 3,031 full-time, U.S. workers in the private sector across industries and company sizes. According to the study, hiring managers in information technology and sales are the most likely to use social networks to screen candidates; professional and business services were least likely. Most hiring managers aren’t intentionally looking for negatives. Some 6 in 10 employers that currently use social networking sites to research job candidates (60 percent) are “looking for information that supports their qualifications for the job,” according to the survey. For some occupations, this could include a professional portfolio. Fifty-three percent of these hiring managers want to see if the candidate has a professional online persona, 30 percent want to see what other people are posting about the candidate, and 21 percent admit they’re looking for reasons not to hire the candidate.

In addition to the occasional mention of a concert or Broadway show I attended, I have links to articles I write for a travel magazine and links to short stories I’ve published on my literary blog. Should I be worried? Since I’ve made a conscious decision to leave my Facebook page entirely public, is it fair for potential employers to use the material I post to help them make their hiring decision?

The problem with searching social media pages for an “online persona” is online personas are frequently phony personas. Most of us carefully consider what we want to share with our online “friends,” and usually we share only what shows us off to the best effect. That includes strategically Photoshop-enhanced pictures, embellishments of the truth (making a party or event you attended sound more glamorous or important than it really was), or outright lies (saying you did things you didn’t do at all). Using social media pages to help make a hiring decision is like asking applicants to lie to you.

If you’re going to use social media as a hiring criteria, it’s a good idea to set guidelines with Human Resources, which often does the initial screening of applicants, and hiring managers, who usually make the final decisions. What is the goal when searching through an applicant’s Facebook page? Is it to see if they will be compatible with your corporate culture? Or is it to look for salacious tidbits to determine if they lead a sufficiently conservative life? Or is it to see how literate their posts sound to determine their educational and sophistication level?

My guess is it isn’t legally necessary, but it’s the most ethical to disclose to applicants before they fill out the application or submit their cover letter and resume the fact that their social media pages will be under inspection. What do you think?

Social media offers great opportunities to keep in touch with friends and make new professional connections, but as a screening device, it probably should be un-friended.

Does your company review job applicants’ social media pages before making hiring decisions? What is the best, and most ethical, way of using social media in the job application process?


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