Can You Pass a Social Media Background Check?

    Recently, on the Fearless Web Facebook page, we posted an article from the New York Times titled “Social Media History Becomes a New Job Hurdle” and asked our fans if they thought it was “OK” for companies to screen out prospective employees based on their social media history.

    Of the six responses, five answered in the negative. The one dissenter was Debbi Littlejohn who stated, “Doesn’t matter if it’s OK, it is done regularly and I would do it too if I were hiring people.” I think this response was the most astute and honest.

    Whether we like it or not, it’s now going to be a part of our world. And if we’re a hiring manager, we’d probably make use of the same technology to get info about a candidate to help us avoid making a bad choice or choosing between two equally qualilied ones. In short, I’m saying we better learn how to deal with this development ‘cause it ain’t going away.

    One of the service companies mentioned in the Times article is called Social Intelligence. Recruiters and hiring companies use their service because it “scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.”

    I don’t know if you shuddered after reading that sentence, but I sure did – and it’s not because I’m sitting too close to the air conditioning. When I think back seven years, I know I’ve written a lot of goofy things, mostly just for laughs with my online friends. I hate the idea of someone I don’t know making a value judgment based on the outrageous things I’ve posted when I assumed that only close friends would be privy to my remarks.

    A Chill Down My Spine

    Don’t think using an individual’s social media history is a mainstream activity yet? Consider this stat from the article: “75 percent of recruiters are required by their companies to do online research of candidates. And 70 percent of recruiters in the United States report that they have rejected candidates because of information online.” Brrr, a chill just went down my spine. I’d put on gloves now, but it makes it hard to type.

    The Social Intelligence executive interviewed for the article tried to offer reassurance, saying that the things that are against the law to ask in a job interview are the “same things” they can’t research. Those things include an applicant’s age, gender, religion, disability, nation of origin, and race.  Whew, that’s a bit of a relief…But wait, what about sexual preference? And political leanings?  What about medical history? Or the people I associate with on my own time?

    Let’s Not Be Naïve

    Don’t think you can’t go from being the front-runner to an also-ran because your possible new boss doesn’t like who you supported in the last presidential election? I wouldn’t bet on it. So let’s not be naïve. Let’s just assume that it’s a very real possibility that you could lose a shot at a job if the recruiter or the hiring manager doesn’t like your vocal support for, say, the Green party.

    So what’s the remedy? Well, there are some companies out there like that are selling themselves as web reputation restorers. [Note: I am by no means recommending or not recommending this service – I’m just amazed that there is a need for such a company like this.]

    I recommend Googling yourself (put your full name inside quotes) and find out what’s out there. If anything could cost you a job, try to remove it. Chances are you won’t be able to totally expunge the embarrassing material, so prepare to have a cover story or some kind of reasonable explanation if you’re asked about it.

    The smartest thing you can do going forward is to remember that the Internet is a public place and everything you say or do online could be seen or heard by everyone else. I’ve warned about this kind of thing before in a previous blog, but that was just about family members finding out about inappropriate stuff you put online, not potential employers.

    Always think twice before posting something that could be considered objectionable. It might save you from not getting that great job.

    I work for Trend Micro and all the opinions expressed here are my own.

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