In this day and age, it’s safe to assume that nothing you put online is completely private. That holds true even when it comes to searching for a job. Your online presence is open to scrutiny from potential employers who want to gauge whether job seekers are a good fit.
Surveys have found that 70 percent of employers are checking the social media accounts of job candidates. Screening a prospective employee’s photos, videos, posts, and search results on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter has become a widespread tool among recruiters and hiring managers.
More and more, employers are using social media background checks to determine whether a candidate is a suitable hire. Just 15 years ago, the practice was practically unheard of among most employers. But social media screenings are now the norm, no matter the industry or position.
A 2018 CareerBuilder survey found that 70 percent of employers use social media checks to screen candidates. When CareerBuilder first conducted the survey in 2006, just 12 percent said they screened candidates’ social media account. The number rose to 25 percent in 2010.
Among employers who check candidates’ online presence, 57 percent said that they’ve excluded applicants based on something they put on social media.
It’s not only job seekers who have to be careful about what they post online. The survey found that 43 percent of employers keep tabs on their current employees’ social media postings, and 34 percent have disciplined (or even fired) an employee because of something posted online.
If the vast majority of hiring managers and recruiters are checking job candidates’ social media profiles, what exactly are they looking for? Put broadly, they want to make sure that a potential hire’s online persona or content wouldn’t reflect poorly on the company. But there are many different red flags when it comes to screening a candidate’s accounts.
Companies want to foster positive work environments where coworkers are respectful of each other and there are no signs of work burnout. If the following kinds of posts are found on a job seeker’s social media pages, an employer might determine that the person lacks character.
Hiring managers want to know that you can be counted on to tell the truth, maintain the company’s reputation, and practice discretion. Don’t let your social media presence put that in doubt with the following types of posts.
Employers want employees who reflect well on the company both in and outside of the office. Based on your social media, they might also draw conclusions about how you will behave and interact with others in a professional setting. Avoid posts that contain the following:
While this gives an overview of the most common social media don’ts for job seekers, the list is by no means an exhaustive compilation of what employers look for in social media screenings. Use your judgment, and err on the side of caution when it comes to posts you’re not sure about.
Based on what we’ve covered so far, it might seem like hiring managers are only checking social media to catch you at your worst. But that’s not the case. A social media screening can actually end up boosting a candidate’s chances of getting the job if their online presence projects an image that appeals to the employer.
In many fields, social media savvy is an attractive attribute. Tuning up your social media accounts can be a boon for your career prospects. Focus on highlighting these attributes if you want your online presence to stand out in a good way:
For job candidates looking to go into fields that appreciate web savvy, engagement, and messaging, social media is an important tool. It’s one thing to tell an interviewer how comfortable you are online; having a track record to prove it will set you apart.
So how exactly do hiring managers and recruiters go about cyber-stalking prospective employees? The first step is obvious: They’ll probably search your name on Google and see what comes up - hopefully, it’s not a local news story about your drunk and disorderly arrest from six years ago. Then, they’ll move on to looking you up on specific social media platforms.
If they find a public Instagram account for you, they’ll scan your photos for any of the red flags we outlined above. They also might peek into your follows and followers to see what kind of crowd you run with.
On Facebook, employers will be interested in your About Me section, along with any educational and work history that you’ve listed to make sure it square with the information you’ve given. As with Instagram, they’ll likely take a gander at your publicly available photos.
When looking at Twitter, they’ll read posts to make sure everything is above board. Twitter can be a great platform for following major industry figures, so it’s possible they will also check whether you are following the heavy hitters in the field to keep up with current trends and news.
When they look up candidates on LinkedIn, it’s less likely that hiring managers and recruiters are checking for red flags or inappropriate content. Rather, they want to see skill and qualification endorsements, and descriptions of your experience that match the resume and interview. They also might look into any shared connections that could serve as references.
Overall, employers are aiming to make sure the impression they’ve developed about a candidate wasn’t mistaken. Social media can either support or contradict the image a jobseeker has presented.
The simple answer is yes, it is legal for employers to look at social media to screen job candidates. However, the full answer isn’t so simple.
There are few laws at this point that explicitly limit how an employer can use social media to monitor or screen an employee or job candidate. However, there are some situations in which looking at a candidate’s online presence could be used for legally questionable purposes that would make a company vulnerable to claims of discrimination.
Employers cannot use information about protected classes to deny a candidate a job. For example, the New York Times’ work advice column noted that, looking at social media could open a company up to a claim that they rejected a prospective employee because she was pregnant. Protected classes can vary by state, but often include (but are not limited to):
While social media can be a useful tool for gauging a candidate’s suitability for a position and work environment, it also comes with risks. There are laws on the books that protect employees and job seekers that employers need to be mindful of. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), companies follow these best practices to keep from infringing on a candidate’s rights.
Some employers opt to hand off the responsibility of digging into a candidate’s background to a third party. There are several reasons why they might do this. Perhaps the hirer doesn’t have much web-savvy and isn’t confident that their search will be thorough or productive.
They might also worry about opening themselves up to accusations of discrimination after making a hiring decision based on what they saw about a candidate online. Outsourcing the job removes the legal risks that can come with social media screening.
Services like Social Intelligence and Good Egg promise to check candidates’ online presence efficiently and legally. They protect the job seeker’s privacy and prevent the employer from being exposed to the sort of protected class information that isn’t allowed to be used in hiring decisions. Rather than casual searching a candidate’s name, these third-party services have standards and procedures to make sure the process doesn’t run afoul of any restrictions.
If you’re concerned that your social media profiles may not clear a screening from a prospective employer, use these strategies for bringing them up to snuff.
A simple way to keep your social media posts from interfering with a job opportunity is to set them to private. You should absolutely do that for your personal accounts. However, it may strike an employer as suspicious if you have no public web presence whatsoever. It can be advantageous to create public-facing, professional accounts that you cater to professional employers. Engage with topics and other accounts related to your field, and leave the rest to your private account.
An employer doesn’t want to have to struggle to find the most relevant information about you. Update your profiles often, and, especially when it comes to career-oriented sites like LinkedIn, fill in the fields that would be of interest to a recruiter or hiring manager. Make it easy on them.
When your employer searches for you online, you want them only to see the most relevant things. If you still have accounts with your name attached on old platforms that you haven’t updated in ages, it might be time to shut those down. While they might not contain anything that would reflect poorly on you, it’s best that a prospective employer stays focused on the current version of your online presence.