Getting a job can be tricky business. You have to write the perfect resume, construct a clever cover letter, pick the perfect outfit for the interview, and learn interviewing tactics to maximize your potential to get hired. As if taking all that into consideration wasn’t enough, now you have to cover one more basis…your social networking sites. That’s right, employers are now using Facebook accounts to screen potential employees. Is it fair? How do they access your information? And better yet, what about your Facebook account can disqualify you for a job?
Social networking sites like Facebook are more popular than ever today. The convenience of being able to keep in touch with friends all over the world, chat online, and keep everyone posted on your everyday activities and up-coming events. Some people even claim that you can create any image for yourself that you want. What’s not to love? But what people may not realize is that the image they’re portraying (real or fake) may be causing them to lose opportunities in the workplace. For example, your party pictures may be great to your friends, but do you think an employer will laugh as well? It’s more than likely they’ll think twice about your application.
A 2007 MSN report listed that 35% of employers conduct background checks via Google, while 23% use social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, and that a shocking one-third of those checks resulted in the applicant being rejected for the position (Du, 2007). A more recent report listed the percentage of employers checking Facebook at 53%, an alarming jump from the survey conducted and reported on MSN only three years before (Skinner, 2010). How many more employers are tapping into the social network market and search engines like Google for background checks now in 2011? The trend seems to suggest the numbers are only going to rise. Skinner (2010) notes that a “further 12% said they were planning to start using social network sites to check out potential employees.”
So, what are employers looking for? First off, they’re checking for work histories and qualifications that may be listed online and prove or disprove what was written in the resume they received from the applicant. So, if you’re going to lie on a job application, you’d better be smart about it. This isn’t to say that you should lie on an application, nor is it encouraging dishonesty by the job-seeking public, but if employers are going to play hardball, it’s only fair job-seekers know what they are getting into, and what they are, or aren’t doing, to get the jobs they want. Furthermore, employers are looking at personal photos and posts to determine the type of lifestyle potential employees lead, and whether or not these potential employees meet the image the company is presenting. Du (2007) tells the story of a company that uses Facebook for applicant screening. When conducting the screening, the recruitment company came across a candidate that looked great on paper, but when it came to the Facebook check, photos were found of the individual “taking off her shirt at parties” (Du, 2007).
Think you’re safe because you don’t have any provocative pictures? Think again. Not only are pictures taken into account, but what is written in personal posts, posts to other people’s pages, and post comments are all taken into account. Use of derogatory language, one’s grammar and writing skills, and indications of excessive alcohol or drug use can all disqualify you for that much coveted job (Du, 2007).
Oregon Business Report (2009) listed specific reasons why employers chose not to hire a candidate after viewing a social networking site. 53% were turned down due to provocative or risqué images, 29% due to poor communication skills, 35% bad-mouthed previous employers or co-workers, and 44% for posting comments about drug or alcohol use, among others.
The use of Facebook, MySpace, and online search engines for employee qualification doesn’t seem fair. More specifically, Facebook and Myspace are supposed to be private forums for people to communicate, socialize, and expand their social network. So why are employers violating applicants sense of privacy? When did a resume, cover letter, and interview become too little to qualify an applicant? And, is it fair to disqualify someone for a job based on private comments made? On proof of alcohol use? Nearly every adult in the U.S. uses alcohol at least on occasion. Should job-seekers be more wary of what they post? Or should applicants continue to portray themselves as they like online, and if employers don’t like it, they can look elsewhere?
Oregon Business Report (2009) suggests some dos and don’ts for your social networks, at least while seeking a job, although the risk of checking your Facebook is still there when employed. Oregon Business Report (2009) notes that people should look through their pages and delete and dirt that employers might find on them to clean up their image, create a positive image by posting only positive information and news instead of complaining about personal or professional affairs; set profiles to private, but remember that comments and posts made to other people’s pages can still be seen; and keep work-related comments off the internet.
For employers checking search engines and social networking sites like Facebook offer then a more intimate look into job applicants before taking the time to interview or hire. From this point of view, it’s easy to see why employers would want to turn to the internet for help in the hiring process. However, it also raises the question of whether employers are unfairly discriminating against potential employees. How can job-seekers be sure they aren’t being disqualified for a job based on appearance or sexual orientation? How about one’s choice to speak casually online instead of writing in complete sentences or checking grammar before posting? Aren’t we allowed the right to let loose online with people we consider friends?
Facebook and Myspace can set to private, but it is important to realize that the information on your page is still online, and as such there are some ways to get around privacy settings. As mentioned earlier, if friend’s pages are not private, employers can check there for information about you. Additionally, footprints of your activity may be able to be traced through internet searches (I.e. Google). While many employers may not care to go this far, it is a possibility. It should also be noted that hitting “like” on a particular company page can give that company access to your personal information, so be cautious about what you “like” on Facebook. Furthermore, no matter what your privacy settings, your profile picture is still viewable, so if you care what picture potential employers see of you, changing your picture from you partying to a simple face shot may not be such a bad idea.
Ultimately, it is up to you what you choose to post on your Facebook page, and whether or not you choose to clean it up before and during employment for a specific company. The key here is knowing that employers are conducting background checks online through Facebook and online search engines. It might be best to check out what an employer can find out about you before applying for a job you really want. If you want the position bad enough, you might have to give up some of your online freedom to keep your profiles clean. It seems it’s only a matter of time before more than half of employers in the U.S. turn to Facebook and other social networking sites to look into who you are, what you’re doing, and whether you’re a good fit for their company.
Du, W. (2007). Job Candidates Getting Tripped Up by Facebook. MSNBC.
Skinner, C. (2010). Half of Employers Check Facebook. MacWorld.
Oregon Business Report (2009). 45% Employers Use Facebook-Twitter to Screen Job Candidates.