Don’t judge an employee by their social media? That’s like the old saying: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Get real. Everyone does it. We make decisions based on how a person dresses, acts, eats, drinks, presents themselves generally. And rightly so – these are conscious decisions reflecting a person’s view of themselves and the world.
Social media is simply another tool which individuals can use to present themselves – and which others will use to judge them.
Social media: a valuable HR tool
Reasonable employers won’t take a candidate’s disability or race into account when evaluating their ability to do the job. But they still need ways to evaluate a potential employee’s ability to do the job. And social media is a valuable tool in this evaluation – for employer and applicant both. An April 2012 survey by CareerBuilder suggests that 37 percent of US employers use social media to screen job applicants. I’m surprised it’s not higher – it will be soon.
Employers: cut to the chase, says Kriss Dunn in his Five New Rules of Using Social Media to Evaluate Candidates. “You can’t afford not to Google a candidate,” or check their social media profiles. If he or she is not a good fit for the company, better find out before you hire. And really, if a candidate doesn’t have good enough judgement to filter what they share about themselves online… then you can’t trust them with your company’s reputation.
Social media helps good candidates shine
Employees and job-searchers: social media is another place where you can shine over other candidates. Where your competitors for a job are posting drunken photos of themselves in dirty nightclubs with dirty men (and women), you can reveal yourself, over time, as an intelligent, articulate and well-rounded individual through your social media presence. If you’re not intelligent, articulate and well-rounded, then, well, sorry – you lose.
Watch your spelling, advises Matt Ryan in How to Appear More Employable in Social Media. Avoid the party photos, stay off social media during work, avoid risky conversations in public forums and do your best to present yourself as a well-rounded professional. It’s not rocket science.
Privacy in a public forum?
Social media is now, as Saikat Basu points out, a valuable, often official part of the hiring process. We all polish our LinkedIn profiles and hope that potential employers review these. Some of us even send a link to them in place of a traditional CV. So why is LinkedIn fair game and other social media profiles off-limits? Those who shout “privacy” want to have their cake and eat it.
Social media has made the world a more open place. It reveals more about a candidate than their strict academic qualifications and work experience. That can only be a positive thing. Companies don’t hire robots, they hire people – and they often hire people for their personality and drive as much as for their college degrees and careers.
And they hire them for their work ethic. A candidate who complains openly about his or her boss in a public social media forum – or who is constantly Facebooking during office hours – is a bad egg and has only him or herself to blame when this is revealed.
Fairness and clarity in social media for HR
But let’s be open about it.
Employers should use professional screening companies such as Social Intelligence to help ensure a more well-rounded picture than a simple Google search or Facebook scan. They should ask potential employees to explain any strange behavior or reputation-damaging photos or information that pop up online. Perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation.
Protect your reputation
Employees and job-seekers, you should be aware what information is available about you online. Search your name on various search engines, with location data if you need to narrow the field. Check image results as well as websites. Run a scan on Reputation.com. Check your privacy settings on all social media profiles.
If there’s something dodgy, you can try to get rid of it. If you can’t, at least you’ll be prepared.
So give companies access to your social media profiles. But clean them up first, and make an effort to appear, over time, the kind of person who will make a good employee as well as a good friend and member of society.
Ethics and legality are not the same thing. I believe it is ethically justified – indeed helpful to everyone involved – to use public social media profiles to help evaluate the suitability of an individual for a job.
The legality of social media screening is under dispute, however, as Thomas Ahearn explains in The Examiner. In the land of lawsuits, companies should be wary of using data gleaned from social media profiles and timelines to judge a prospective employee, whether formally or informally. Issues of discrimination and privacy may bubble up – sweet for lawyers, painful for everyone else.
We shall no doubt see some more lawsuits in this vein. With any luck, they will help clear the air so we can discuss these issues openly in the media and in political and legal forums. Both employers and employees have the right to know where they stand. Meanwhile, everyone cover your backs.