Understanding Social Media Screening: A Guide For Jobseekers
For better or worse, technology has made it easier than ever for employers to delve into the private lives of job seekers and employees. A quick Google search can easily lead to your Facebook or Twitter accounts along with all publicly shared content – yes, even those embarrassing photos from Ibiza 2011. And this is something many employers take advantage of; according to research, 70% use social media to research candidates during the hiring process, and 57% have rejected applicants because of what they found.
What’s the purpose of social media screening?
The aim of social media screening – sometimes dubbed ‘cybervetting’ - is partly to see what kind of clues can be gained about a candidate’s character that wouldn’t necessarily be revealed in an interview scenario. Are they the quiet, introverted type that enjoys spending time in with the cat and a good book, or are they painting the town red every chance they get? Of course, employers are also checking that a job seeker doesn’t hold any controversial or politically incorrect opinions that could cause issues in the workplace. Such instances are more common than you’d probably imagine – research involving 9708 job seekers showed that 27% had sexist content within their social media profiles, 25% had content that could be considered homophobic, and 22% had images that were considered sexually explicit. Employers are also looking for content that will reassure them a candidate is a good cultural fit for an organisation, with a wide range of interests and healthy relationships.
Is social media screening ethical?
There are no particular laws that govern what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to social media screening in the UK, and it’s up to individual organisations to put best practice guidelines in place. Although there are some obvious benefits to using social media to screen candidates, the practice also has the potential to cause problems. For example, characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexuality may be obvious from a social media profile, and yet are characteristics we are often careful to hide on a CV to prevent bias, and are illegal to discriminate against. Additionally, how ethical a social media screening is can largely depend on how it’s conducted. There’s a big difference between having a brief glance at someone’s LinkedIn to double check professional qualifications and digging through their Facebook and Twitter posts from the previous three years. In fact, using information in such a manner could well be considered discriminatory, and therefore against the law. For example, if an employer is examining a potential employee’s Facebook profile and notices that a candidate fell pregnant at a young age, they may well begin to form unfair assumptions that can then impact their chances within the interview process. Problems can also occur when employers or recruiters check some candidate’s social media pages and not others, meaning that not everyone has gone through the same screening process.
Because of all these factors, it’s highly advised that all employers have a social media screening policy in place that lays out exactly what’s acceptable and what isn’t, what should be considered ‘public’ or ‘private’, establishes guidelines for when an applicant’s permission is required, and provides direction on how to avoid bias and discrimination.
How to stop social media sabotaging your job search
Because it’s impossible to know just how much research a potential employer is going to conduct on you beforehand, it’s a good idea to follow a few simple steps to avoid losing out on professional opportunities because of social media. Here are our top tips.
1. Review your privacy settings
If you’d prefer to keep recruiters or hiring managers out of your Facebook and Instagram profiles, then make sure your profiles are private. Alternatively, if you don’t want to make your whole profile private, then take the time to look through your posts and adjust the settings on any you’d rather potential employers didn’t see. You can compare this to cleaning your house before people come over – it’s not really fair for people to judge you for having a messy house, but it wouldn’t stop them!
2. Google yourself
It’s the first thing a potential employer might do, so why not try it yourself and see what comes up? If anything pops up that’s embarrassing or that you don’t like, this is your opportunity to delete it. Be sure to check Google images too! And remember, Google’s search listings can take a few weeks to update, to be sure to complete this check in plenty of time. Another top tip is to do an incognito search so the results won’t be affected by previous searches or other personalisation factors.
3. Hide or delete inappropriate posts and photos
The definition of ‘inappropriate’ will likely be different to everyone, but as a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t want your nan to see it, you probably don’t want a potential employer to see it either. Old photos don’t need to go away completely – instead, you can archive, save, or make them visible to only you.
4. Deactivate old accounts
That YouTube account from your brief attempt at becoming the next Zoella in year 11 has long since served its purpose, so it’s probably best to relegate it to the confines of history. If you don’t want to revisit your teenage self, you probably don’t want a potential employer to either.
5. Smarten up your professional profiles
A potential employer is only really likely to go through your personal social media profiles if your professional ones don’t provide much insight into who you are as a person and a candidate. Be sure to include a succinct, professional bio, an appropriate photo, and some relevant and interesting content.
6. Use social media to your advantage
Contrary to what most job seekers might believe, employers are looking for a reason to hire someone, not reject them. According to surveys, 45% of hiring managers are looking to find more information about a candidate’s qualifications, and 44% are looking for qualities such as creativity. You can therefore do yourself a favour by making sure your profiles are up to date with details employers want to see, and contain thoughtful and interesting content.
In conclusion, it’s important for candidates to tackle their social media footprint, and be thorough. However, as long as you follow some common-sense guidelines, social media screening is nothing to be anxious about – in most cases, hiring managers and employers are simply looking for reassurance that you’re the right person for the job.
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