Commentary

Social Media Profiles Hurt Jobseekers More than Help

Hopefully most readers of this column are aware that their social media profiles are fair game for potential employers, who may peruse the photos and updates posted to a Facebook page to gather evidence as to the character and sobriety (often literally) of a prospective job candidate. This week brings more evidence that ill-advised social media content can hurt your chances, courtesy of a survey of executives responsible for hiring decisions in Australia.

The survey of 1,255 bosses and other hiring executives, conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Australian telecom Telestra, found that 28% of the respondents use social media to screen job candidates by doing research into their backgrounds. Within this group, respondents said they were turned off by something posted on a profile around 40% of the time. That compares to one-third who said that something posted on a profile helped decide them in favor of a particular candidate.

No surprise, one of the biggest mistakes made by job applicants in their social media profiles was criticizing their current employer: 44% of Australian employers who use social media for screening said they automatically disqualified jobseekers who posted critical comments about their current workplace, according to the Pure Profile-Telestra survey. Other frequent mistakes were making discriminatory remarks, with 37% saying this was an automatic deal-breaker, and posting inappropriate photos, with 31% of employers giving the old heave-ho. Again unsurprisingly, Facebook was the most popular source of information on job candidates, used by 41% of bosses who screen applicants through social media, followed by LinkedIn at 31%, Twitter at 14%, and YouTube and MySpace at 7% each.

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Interestingly, social media surveillance may continue even after someone lands a job: 43% of Aussie employers say they accept friend requests from their employees, and 33% say they check their employees’ social media profiles -- including 18% who monitor them to make sure the employees aren’t badmouthing the company online, and 15% who monitor for productivity.

Back in the U.S., there’s no question employers are zeroing in on social media profiles as sources of information about job candidates -- sometimes with the help of professional background researchers. In June of this year I wrote about a decision by the Federal Trade Commission which effectively allows everything an individual puts on social media (which is publicly available under their privacy settings) to be archived by third parties for up to seven years, for the explicit purpose of background checks -- even if the individual has deleted the content in question from his or her own account.

The FTC determined that a company called Social Intelligence Corp. was operating within the bounds of the law when it created "cached" archives of social media profiles for review by employers, including potentially damaging photos and statements. According to Social Intelligence Corp. CEO Max Drucker, the company focuses on screening social media profiles for the usual suspects -- racist remarks, sexually explicit content, pictures with guns, knives, or other weapons, and other illegal behavior (think bongs).

There are some limits on how employers may use archived social media content, however. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, companies are required to tell prospective employees (or, say, credit applicants) that they are going to perform background check and obtain their permission to do so. Also, companies must tell the applicant about any damaging information they find online.

3 comments about "Social Media Profiles Hurt Jobseekers More than Help".
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  1. Janir Thorndike from Placewise Media, November 28, 2011 at 3:42 p.m.

    Interesting insights - I've seen several articles of late on this subject and I'd like to know what percentage of Facebook users have their privacy settings set to be publicly viewable rather than only viewable by friends or something in between with custom settings, and also how that breaks down demographically. Does anyone have insight into those numbers? Thx.

  2. Daniel Soschin from Speaker & Blogger, December 3, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.

    Erik, I think the real issue is how most users of social media post things without thinking about the ramifications. Employers should check in on candidates and employees - what they do in the public space can be a potential liability. The real challenge is coaching your staff to be responsible. I preach, "don't every say or do anything on social media that you wouldn't want your boss or mother see." With that strategy, it's hard to do wrong in the social space.

  3. Dina James from Interactive One, December 8, 2011 at 4:21 p.m.

    I don't think that Social Intelligence Corp was operating outside of the bounds of the law by gathering that data, but I think businesses that openly use this information to make hiring decisions may be faced with discrimination or other lawsuits. People doing hiring may use these services, but it'll be a very gray area in the law in my opinion. The best thing you can do with your social media profile is to have very restrictive privacy settings. It does you no good to have your pictures or other personal information out in the open. While you can be smart about what information about yourself you put out there, it doesn't help you if somebody posts about you at http://www.dirtyphonebook.com or other similar sites where people post about other people. You can control your own actions, but you can't control the actions of others, so if you're working to get a job you should be monitoring what is out there about you on Google. In rough economic times, I think this is more important than ever. I think that social mores may eventually adjust as people who have grown up with internet all of their lives start to take positions of power, so this may change how it affects people down the road. For now though, its still a pretty big concern.

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