Social media has become integral to life over the past couple of decades, and it touches every aspect from dating to shopping to employment. PR Newswire reports that, “Seventy percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates...And that review matters: Of those that do social research, 57 percent have found content that caused them not to hire candidates.” With over half of employers finding disqualifying content on social media, it’s important to ask if your social media is what’s preventing you from being hired.
While federal laws govern the use of background checks when they include information about credit or criminal history, no national laws currently exist to govern companies’ use of social media in making personnel decisions. Of course, employers must follow EEO rules and still must not use social media in discriminatory ways. Outside of anti-discrimination laws that apply equally across all forms of hiring interactions from interviews to social media reviews, however, the lines for using social research in hiring can become much blurrier.
State laws do have some limitations. The Society for Human Resource Management explains, “In several states, employers cannot ask an applicant (or employee) for his or her social media password by law. In all 50 states, asking for an applicant’s (or employee’s) password creates a real risk of violating the federal Stored Communications Act. For this reason, employers should look only at content that is public.”
It’s a good idea to consider your public content as an employer’s way of gauging personality, assessing reputation, and confirming qualifications. For example, Business News Daily outlines these 4 ways employers tend to use social media in thinking about hiring:
As you can see from this study, some of these considerations are contextual and subjective based on differences like culture or company values. What one culture considers professional may not apply in a different context, and diverse internal company values can shape the way hiring managers think about creativity or reputation. This is important to keep in mind because there is no way to solve for every possible social red flag different employers may see in a social screen, so being yourself is still important. Finding a company that is a good fit for you can be as important as a company finding an employee that fits well for them.
However, because so many companies do screen social media and turn up results they consider disqualifying, it’s helpful to use these tips to ensure you can enjoy social media without it interfering with your job prospects:
Make sure the only content you post publicly is content you’re comfortable with a prospective employer seeing. Employers are legally allowed to review this, so look over your settings and profiles with them in mind, if you’re concerned about content impacting your prospects.
Other people may be able to make some of your content public without you realizing it, so be careful what you post. But also check where people have tagged you, and remove public tags if you don’t want certain kinds of images or posts to appear to employers. Some content may make it to public spaces online with or without your consent, so running a background check on yourself can be useful if you are uncertain what an employer may see.
Companies may not want an employer who publicly--or just in their personal social media network--complains about their former role, supervisor, or company. Many brands will view this as contributing to a harmful work culture, so be mindful of what kind of content you are posting. In some cases, it may be important for you to let others know if you experienced employer neglect or unlawful practices, so be thoughtful when making a decision to post any kind of information about prior experiences. It may be useful to you, but it may also be harmful. Depending on the company reviewing your profile, it may or may not create problems for you.
It can be useful to screen your own social media profiles while keeping in mind a professional role you are exploring. Does your content suggest any reasons why you may be disqualified? This could range from posting inconsistent information from what you share on a resume or in an interview, or it could simply be the way you write or create video content. Different social media platforms lend themselves to different experiences, so keep in mind that if you post less formal content on a more professional platform like LinkedIn, employers may read that negatively. If you post writing with a lot of errors or video content that is overly personal, they may also be concerned, depending on the role.
So many reports and discussions about social media warn of the dangers of doing the wrong thing online…but could you also use social media positively, to set yourself up for success?
Social media is simply a tool, and you control how and why you use it. If you choose to use social media with an employer or role in mind, it does have the potential to lead to your dream job. For example, perhaps you can showcase your understanding of brand management by building a personal brand for one of your hobbies on social media, such as photography or some other form of content creation. You could use videos to amplify causes and exhibit your unique personality or concern for the world in ways that may be attractive to companies where your unique mindset is a great culture fit. Background screenings that review social media don’t only turn up negative things. It’s also possible to leverage social media for your success in a way that stays true to you.
One final way to use social media to increase your chances at employment is to follow social media accounts, ads, and recruitment content from your favorite companies or organizations. Sometimes job postings appear there before other places online. You never know…social media may just lead to your next dream job!