While many companies use social media sites to recruit and advertise job openings to candidates, a small percentage of them use social media to evaluate job candidates.
Opinions on using social media as a way to screen and research candidates vary widely. Some argue that social media offers great insight beyond a highly edited resume. Others suggest that red flags may pop up on someone’s personal page that could influence whether or not a candidate is even considered (inviting claims of potentially discriminatory behavior taken by the employer).
There are definitely cautionary tales to be told regarding an employer making a hiring decision based on information found on social media. As a best practice, employers should never base an employment decision solely on social media.
Some states have limited or prohibited an employer’s access to a candidate’s social media accounts. The employer may also be exposed to EEOC “protected class” information (e.g. a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information), all of which cannot be considered as part of the hiring process. Therefore there can be significant issues with relying on this type of information to justify an employment action.
Whether or not your potential employer uses social media during a background check, here are some social media best practices that everyone should consider:
- Claim your name. Some people decide to simply not engage in social media at all. While you may think this resolves the overall problem, it may make a negative impression on recruiters, depending on your position. For example if you are looking for a job related to mass communication, such as marketing or public relations, then you would be expected to have a social media profile. For other positions, your lack of a social media presence could be a non-issue.
- If you do want privacy, consider making a distinction between personal and professional social media sites, and then only set your personal site to private.
- Keep your social media profiles up-to-date, especially professional profile pages such as LinkedIn.
- Do not engage in bullying of any kind. Prospective employers would not be pleased to see you bashing a coworker or previous job.
- Make sure to review the types of groups or pages you like. Sometimes we forget that one offensive cartoon or extreme political page we liked 10 years ago might be deemed unprofessional or inappropriate in the eyes of a recruiter.
- Review, delete, or hide any graphic or obscene photos you may be tagged in. Replace them with tons of cute animal pictures (just kidding?).
- Google yourself to see what pops up.
Overall, it’s best to use common sense when using social media. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable displaying a photo at your desk, consider not posting it for hundreds or thousands of people to see; If you would not speak to someone in person the same way you would online, simply do not engage at all.