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New Hiring Tactic? Prospective Employers Checking Employee’s Social Networking Profile

As social networking grows increasingly pervasive, more employers are utilizing these sites to screen potential employees.

In a 2008 survey of more than 31,000 employers released by CareerBuilder.com, one in five employers searched social networking sites to screen job candidates. In 2006, only 11% of managers used the technology. 

CareerBuilder conducted a more recent survey in June 2009. More than 2,600 hiring managers participated and results showed that 45% of employers reported that they use social networking sites to research job candidates, a big jump from 22% last year. Another 11%  plan to start using social networking sites for screening.

Of those employers who conduct online searches/background checks of job candidates, 29% use Facebook, 26% use LinkedIn and 21% use MySpace. One-in-ten (11%) search blogs while 7% follow candidates on Twitter.

The top industries most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines include those that specialize in technology and sensitive information such Information Technology (63%) and Professional & Business Services (53%).

Why Employers Disregarded Candidates After Screening Online

Job seekers are cautioned to be mindful of the information they post online and how they communicate directly with employers. Thirty-five % of employers reported they have found content that caused them to release the candidate out of consideration for a job and decided not to make a job offer after reviewing the content on a profile.
The top areas of concern found on social networking sites include:

  • Inappropriate photos or information posted on a candidate’s page (53% of managers said this was a top concern)
  • Information about alcohol or drug use (44%)
  • Denigrating former employers or fellow employees (35%)
  • Poor communication skills (29%)
  • Candidate made discriminatory comments (26%)
  • Inaccurate qualifications (24%)
  • Unprofessional screen names (22%)
  • Notes showing links to criminal behaviour (21%)
  • Confidential information about past employers (20%)
  • Fourteen % of employers have disregarded a candidate because the candidate sent a message using an emoticon such as a smiley face while 16% dismissed a candidate for using text language such as GR8 (great) in an e-mail or job application.

 Why Employers Hired Candidates After Screening Online

Job hunters can also utilize social media when advertising their skills and experience. In 2008, the study found that 24% of hiring managers found content on social networks that helped convince them to hire a candidate, while 18% of employers reported the same in 2009.
The top examples include:

  • Profile provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality and fit (50%)
  • Profile supported candidate’s professional qualifications (39%)
  • Candidate was creative (38%)
  • Candidate showed solid communication skills (35%)
  • Candidate was well-rounded (33%)
  • Other people posted good references about the candidate (19%)
  • Candidate received awards and accolades (15%)

 “Social networking is a great way to make connections with potential job opportunities and promote your personal brand across the Internet. Make sure you are using this resource to your advantage by conveying a professional image and underscoring your qualifications.” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “Hiring managers are also using the Internet to get a more well-rounded view of job candidates in terms of their skills, accomplishments and overall fit within the company.  As a result, more job seekers are taking action to make their social networking profiles employer-friendly. Sixteen % of workers who have social networking pages said they modified the content on their profile to convey a more professional image to potential employers.”

Careerbuilder.com recommends that job seekers:

  • Remove pictures, content and links that can send the wrong message to potential employers.
  • Update social networking profiles regularly to highlight latest accomplishments.
  • Consider blocking comments to avoid questionable posts; avoid joining groups whose names could turn off potential employers.
  • Monitor comments made by others. Consider using the “block comments” feature or setting your profile to “private” so only designated friends can view it.
  • Keep gripes offline. Keep the content focused on the positive, whether that relates to professional or personal information. Makes sure to highlight specific accomplishments inside and outside of work.
  • Don’t mention your job search if you’re still employed.

Given how common the practice has become of checking social networking sites for information on potential hires and factoring that information into hiring decisions, employers may not be well advised to use whatever information they can from wherever they can. While there is no specific prohibition on checking an applicant’s Facebook page, employers should carefully weigh its potential hazards.

Here are four of the biggest traps for the unwary:

1. Discrimination laws discourage disclosure of “too much information.” For example, a public disclosure of one’s ongoing battle with an illness, can cause an applicant to be turned down for the job. If a claim is filed against the company, they risk having to explain how and why the medical information did not figure into the decision-making.

2. The jury is still out on whether a Facebook search may be subject to limits on background checks. If you use a third party service to conduct certain types of background checks, it is required that you give prior notice of the check to the individual being investigated. In the social networking context, few employers want to do this because, among other things, they don’t want to give the applicant time to remove offensive material before the search begins.

3. Some states prohibit denying a job to someone because of off-duty conduct that is not illegal. The horror stories of Facebook postings that take on a life of their own may seem funny to Facebook friends but decidedly unattractive to a prospective employer. In some states, that information is off-limits for hiring decisions, unless, of course, there is a direct link to the responsibilities of the job itself.

4. Shockingly, not everything on Facebook is true. It is one thing to rely on information an applicant directly provides to you. It’s another thing to rely on information posted by the applicant or others on a website. A Facebook page, like every other public forum, can be the voice of puffery, trickery, and fakery. In short: browser beware.

CareerBuilder 2009 Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder.com between May 22 and June 10, 2009 among 2,667 hiring managers and human resource professionals (employed full-time; not self-employed; with at least significant involvement in hiring decisions; non- government) ages 18 and over. With a pure probability sample of 2,667 one could say with a 95% probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.9% points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.

Written by: Vikki Ali

This blog is a compilation of information gathered from the following websites:
Oregon Business Report
The Wall Street Journal – Market Watch
Computerworld Inc

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