Social media has played a major role in the lives of my generation for the last few years, providing a platform for us to connect with others and share memories. Throughout my high school and early university years, I paid little attention to what pictures of me were posted, or what content was present on my wall. After all, at that age it’s the more the better, right? Then came my final year of university. As I started attending networking seminars and resume workshops, I learned of the phenomenon of ‘Employer Facebook Screening’. From a student’s perspective, I personally do not think it would be fair to judge my skills and work ethic based on pictures from my high school years. I can also understand, however, from an employer’s perspective that they might want to look for red flags regarding their prospects. But are there defined moral boundaries when examining this phenomenon?
The emergence of Facebook’s recent new design, the Timeline, has laid out your personal information in chronological order so your friends and family can see what you have been doing and when you have been doing it. Not many people realize that this has only made it easier for employers to research their potential employees and reject or accept them based on their finding. The Huffington Post provides the following statistics based on a study conducted by Harris Interactive:
- 65 reported that they used them to see if the applicant “presents him- or herself professionally.”
- Half used the sites to determine if the person would be a good fit with the company’s culture, and 45 percent wanted to learn more about the candidates’ qualifications.
- 12 percent of hiring managers that use the sites said they were specifically looking for reasons not to hire the person.
- 34 percent of hiring managers said they had come across something that caused them not to hire a candidate. In nearly half of these cases, the person posted a provocative photo or had made reference to drinking or drug use.”
When I would visit my Facebook page, my first concern was never how professional my Timeline appeared. I wouldn’t allow any ridiculous photos of me to be traceable to my page, but the reality is that I never thought a great deal about the presentation of my profile. When I read these facts, I was surprised to learn how often Facebook was used in the hiring process. Other articles have shown different statistics from similar studies, but all share the underlying trend of using Facebook and other social media sites as a primary research tool. The Huffington Post article study was conducted in February and March of 2012, so there has likely been an increase in the use of this method that has paralleled the increase in technology.
The Extent of Snooping
As you can see, the extent of use varies between employers. I am in no way a professional in this field, but from what I have gathered there are three levels of Facebook screening for employers.
As previously stated by the statistics shown above, many employers use Facebook to determine whether an applicant will be a good fit for the company’s culture. An example of my interpretation of this would be a company finding a person who has previously traveled and is adventurous. This type of person may be seen as compatible with the culture of a company and what their goals are. Using Facebook to look for red flags such as photographs of the applicant committing crimes or streaking across a football field seems more appropriate, as it demonstrates the more extreme sides of a person and their lack of reputation preservation. Often employers use Facebook to determine an employee’s qualifications and confirm previous work experience. A positive indicator for companies is the user’s involvement with businesses, such as liking them and following their updates. Information that is posted to Facebook becomes public information without proper privacy settings, therefore, if you are providing this information to the rest of the world then why shouldn’t employers be able to use it?
Judge of Character
Much of the controversy of Facebook screening today stems from the moral dilemmas and the over-judgment involved in pre-screening new employees. Although the majority of employers interviewed in the study claimed not to use Facebook to find a reason not to hire a person, the fact is that this is a motive and is costing people their dream jobs.
Although there is a line between appropriate and inappropriate pictures, it does not seem justifiable to deny an employee a job based on a picture of them having some drinks with friends. Additionally, judging a person based on the professional appearance of their Facebook seems to adhere to the old saying of ‘judging a book by its cover’. Facebook is known for many things, photo album, publicized personal journal, connection medium, etc; however, I have never heard it referred to as a secondary resume. The purpose of a resume is to provide employers with your work experience, skills, and how you have used those to contribute to companies. But that is no longer enough, employers want to know every aspect of the lives of those they wish to hire. And the chances are if they are looking for a reason not to hire an applicant, it is likely that they will find it whether it’s relevant or not.
Invasion of Privacy
A highly controversial issue in this topic has been the request for passwords by employers. As an applicant, there are most likely things you have hidden from the public view that you still wish to share with friends. You know that employers may misjudge you based on their findings and you know they are not legally entitled to this information. The problem is, however, that keeping your password from employers may lead them to think you are hiding something big from them. In this situation, there is no winning. Many places are working to provide protection for employees from this phenomenon, but the reality is that it still happens.
The following video, specifically from 0:00 until around 3:00, provides an insight into the reality of this occurrence as well as examples of where it has been used.
Are you protected?
As it stands, Canada has privacy laws in place that make it illegal for employers to ask for passwords to gain access to personal information. In May of 2012, Maryland became the first state to enact a law for this purpose. This trend has continued throughout the past year but is still not consistent throughout the country.
Germany enacted a law in 2010 banning employers from using Facebook as a tool in the interview process, and making them liable if an applicant was denied based on something discovered on their Facebook page.
These give an example of what is being done to protect job applicants, but currently not everyone is protected from this trend.
Solution, or is it?
Upon learning all this information regarding this emerging interview tool, one could conclude that the most obvious solution is to deactivate your Facebook. Although this is easier said than done, as it can be very habit forming, it would seem the solution is to eliminate the chances of being denied a job based on preliminary social media judgments. Time Magazine, however, among many other publications, have published articles outlining how not having a Facebook page could be detrimental to the hiring process. With the high involvement levels of the internet in our everyday lives, it has been mentioned by some psychiatrists that not having Facebook could have indications of being socially withdrawn, a quality that has been found in investigations of mass shooters. It’s not to say that all people who don’t have Facebook are serial killers, but some employers assume that candidates without Facebook have something to hide.
Therefore, this leads us to a very contradictory conclusion, which makes me wonder, what is the right answer?
What You Can Do
After gathering both sides of the story, I have concluded that the best way to avoid the judgments of employers based on social media would be to censor your profiles and present them in a way that employers would perceive as positive. About.com gives some suggestions on how to alter your page so it does not ward off job opportunities.
- Untag or remove any photos on which employers may misjudge you
- Change your privacy settings to friends only for photos and albums
- Remove any inappropriate drunken status updates or posts from friends that may seem distasteful
- Ensure that your grammar is correct in all past and future posts
- Follow businesses or important causes in which you have an interest (unless it involves day-drinking)
- Posting education and employment history can often be a positive indicator to employers
- Interests are acceptable as long as they are mature and beneficial to whom you are as a person in the eyes of an employer. (i.e. volunteering, mountain climbing, etc.) This ensures a balance between professional life and personal life that will not deter employers.
The foundation of Facebook is that it is a social media platform. It is not a full summary of your personality, skills, and career goals. But the reality is that employers will still take advantage of this booming technology for as long as they can. It’s best to be prepared for it before you miss out on your dreams.