In this day and age, everyone (on the grid, anyway) has an Internet persona. With all the tweets, status updates, comments and such, it’s unavoidable not to be online (or searchable) in some way, shape or form. And, as we’ve all read, hiring managers know this and try take advantage of it–some more than others–to screen potential job candidates throughout the recruiting and interview process.
In a 2011 survey about how recruiters use social networks to screen candidates, 91% of the respondents claimed they have visited a potential candidate’s profile on a social network as part of the screening process. Sixty-nine percent of them have even rejected a candidate based on what they found on his or her social networking profiles, such as an inappropriate photo, a post about the candidate using illegal substances or negative comments about a previous employer.
But what are hiring managers and recruiters actually hoping to accomplish by doing this? And what happens when they find something questionable?
I talked to a lawyer/social media expert and a few recruiters who have with experience screening candidates online to get their take on using social networks to check up on potential job candidates.
Why Do Recruiters Care About Your Internet Persona?
It’s expensive for companies to hire someone only to learn weeks or months later that he or she isn’t the right fit for the job. With social media, it’s possible to learn a lot more about a person than what’s on their resume, giving recruiters and hiring managers more insight into the behaviors and personal lives of their candidates.
“Businesses and recruiters want to know as much as they can about a person who they may give a job offer,” says Eric Meyer, partner in the labor and employment group at Dilworth Paxson LLP and author of The Employer Handbook. “But the real purpose behind screening is to make sure the person you’re hiring doesn’t have any red flags that would make them a bad fit or a potential liability for the business.”
Red flags, or careabouts, for hiring managers will also likely vary for companies. According to Amy Henderson, account executive with Technisource, part of Randstad Technologies, the way she screens candidates online really depends on the role the person’s being considered for.
“We heavily rely on LinkedIn to verify skill sets and backgrounds required for more technical positions,” says Henderson. “You’re friends with your friends on Facebook and it’s hard to say you’re something you’re not. You see it more when someone’s background on their resume doesn’t align with their LinkedIn profiles.”
With more customer-facing roles, Henderson may check out a candidate’s Facebook page (if it’s public) to make sure they’re representing themselves in a way that doesn’t hinder their chances of being placed.
“If we find questionable photos or status updates, we’ll use that as a coaching opportunity and try to consult the candidate on his or her online reputation so the client [hiring company] doesn’t get the wrong idea when and if they choose to screen the candidate on social media sites.”
The reality is, most social media profiles aren’t updated with recruiters in mind. People are posting about things that are relevant to their lives, interests and personalities. By screening candidates’ social media profiles, recruiters are getting a clearer picture of the person behind the resume.
What to Expect When Employers Find a Red Flag
Most job seekers should know there’s a chance a hiring manager might glance at at least one of their social media profiles throughout the duration of the hiring and interviewing process. There’s also a chance he or she might find something questionable, like a nasty comment about a former boss, causing a red flag to go up and throwing a wrench in the hiring process.
While recruiters have rejected candidates based on what they’ve found on a social network, (depending on the severity of the red flag) some would prefer to give the candidate a chance to explain the reasoning behind it.
“If there’s something that comes up on a profile and it’s really out of line, I have no problem letting a candidate know that something on their profile has brought their candidacy into question,” says Henderson. “It may be out of line with the core values of the client, but I’ll definitely hear them out to see what’s going on and why that red flag went up.”
Meyer would agree: “I think it’s a good practice as an employer who’s doing really any kind of a background check to give candidates a chance to explain themselves. Oftentimes there’s a story behind what was posted online or what might show up in a background check.”
Maybe those stories won’t hold up, and in that case the candidate probably wasn’t the right fit for the company. But just as 69% of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on content found on his or her social networking profile, 68% have actually hired someone. Of those, 39% did it because whatever they found “gave a positive impression of the candidate’s personality and organizational fit.”
“In terms of mindset and outlook on life, people use their social networks and their blogs to really express themselves,” says Rachel Dotson, content manager for ZipRecruiter. “If you see someone consistently posting negative things and it’s apparent they have a poor outlook on life, that’s the kind of thing (especially at a small company like ours) that’s going to give us a lot of pause. One toxic employee can ruin an entire department or organization, depending on its size.”
What’s Social Isn’t Always Private, and Other Reminders for Job Seekers
Whether candidates are active on just one or multiple social media profiles, they can’t assume anything they put online is private.
“You may have privacy restrictions set up on Facebook and the like, and an employer may not be able to view what’s behind those privacy restrictions, but you never know how they might gain lawful access to that information,” says Meyer.
And as for recruiters and hiring managers who do choose to look up candidates online, it’s likely that what they find will also shape their first impression of that person.
“Perception is reality in the business world,” Henderson says. “The way people perceive you online, through social media–that’s what they use to make first impressions. And those first impressions are lasting impressions.”
For most job seekers, these points are pretty common sense. But if more and more hiring managers start demanding login information for candidates’ social media profiles, employers will have more to worry about than what’s on a job seeker’s Facebook profile, such as the legality of accessing electronic information without authorization, or the of risk losing top talent due to a perceived lack of trust.
“Employers run the risk that if they require job candidates to relinquish Facebook logins and passwords as a condition of employment, those candidates will respond by removing their names from consideration,” Meyer adds. “At the moment the company requests that private information, it projects a lack of trust, which is a bad building block for an employer-employee relationship.”
What other best practices should social job seekers consider for maintaining their social reputation online?
Additional thanks to Rosemary Haefner – VP of HR, CareerBuilder.com – for sharing her expertise on this topic.
Thumbnail image by Andreas Eldh