Let’s say you want to hire me.
If you creep on any of my social media, you’re going to see a lot of photos of me dressed up like a Mad Max character, in full zombie face paint, playing with a Nerf gun. This is because I’m a huge nerd who LARPs.
Question: What does this have to do with my job?
My proclivity for pretending to be a George A Romero extra with a bunch of fully grown, otherwise rational people on the weekends doesn’t have much to do with my ability to research and write about things like payroll software and how to select the best ATS. Until I typed this, most people I know had no idea this is a hobby of mine. (Oops.)
So what would happen if I was trying to get a job, and the lovely hiring manager creeped on my Facebook profile?
Maybe they would laugh off the zombies and focus on my resume and writing samples. Or maybe they would be distracted by my personal life. Maybe, in spite of all my qualifications, they wouldn’t be able to get past the many photographs of my (admittedly out-there) hobby. Maybe, while reading my samples and calling my references, they wouldn’t be able to ignore the photo of me in face paint, or my status updates alerting people to the two gallons of fake blood I bulk-bought. Maybe what I do for fun would cost me that job, even though those lines never cross.
Who’s doing it
I wouldn’t be the first. Research from Reppler shows that nearly 70% of hiring managers have rejected an applicant based on information found on their social media profiles.
Checking on Facebook and social media is so ridiculously common that there are entire companies who exist to handle it for you. They’ll check on your applicants’ pages as a third party, digging deep into who they are online and (hopefully) avoiding the legal problems that can crop up. But more on that later.
Nobody wants the wool pulled over their eyes in an interview. You don’t want to hire someone who’s going to be bad for your company or is lying about their qualifications. Checking an applicant’s Facebook can feel like simple due diligence. People are on their best behavior in an interview, and that may not carry through when they start the job itself.
(As a side note, in this case, checking an applicant’s LinkedIn is sensible. LinkedIn can help corroborate the skills and work history listed on a resume. It’s an online version of who someone is at work, designed for this exact purpose. So in this one particular social media case, go nuts.)
Who we are changes in different situations
How you talk to your supervisor isn’t how you talk to your closest friends, and this difference should be understood and accepted. It’s a very light form of something called code switching, where a person changes from one style and presentation of speaking to another, based on the context.
We all do it, and we all should do it, because it would be pretty jarring if we didn’t. Your mom probably doesn’t want to be spoken to like your co-worker, and your boss doesn’t want to be spoken to like your little sister. If people can change from one style to another when speaking with different people, why couldn’t the same be true for behavior, even if it’s documented online?
The important question to ask then becomes: how would the things an applicant expresses online impact their work life?
If your potential hire posts nothing but cute cat pictures, does that make them better or worse for the position than someone who posts a lot of photographs of themselves partying? While there’s something to be said for professionalism and discretion, those pictures will only ever tell you part of the story. Odds are, what someone does on the weekend will never impact their work life, even if they have a worrying status update.
But, seriously, what about that worrying status update?
So let’s say you ignore my fantastic advice and check your potential new hire’s Facebook anyway. (I can’t blame you, since it’s basically an industry standard by now.)
What do you do if what you see concerns you? What if the person is posting pictures of themselves out at bars with friends, in the presence of alcohol, or talking about what a wild weekend they’ve had?
Statistically, your concern is probably out of proportion to the post. 75% of people admit to making their lives sound more fun or more exciting on Facebook than they really are. And while that’s not the best news ever, it might help soothe some concerns about the person claiming to be attending blowout shindigs every weekend.
If you are still insistent upon finding an applicant whose wall is a bastion of good taste and decorum, you’ll be hard pressed to find them. According to CNN, roughly half of Facebook users have profanity on their walls, links referencing sexual activity are shared 90% more than other links, and 85% of young men in college frequently reference alcohol on their walls.
And if you’re like many hiring managers, you might not think that’s the worst thing ever. Extroverts are the people we generally think of as being highly social, even frequent party-goers, and they tend to be more successful in the workplace than their introverted counterparts. Extroverts especially shine in sales positions, though there can be too much of a good thing.
What if your applicant’s Facebook is set to private? Should you still snoop, or is the information only important if anyone can see it? If you still want to know, will you send them a friend request, or demand to know their Facebook password, as we witnessed a rash of companies doing just a few years ago?
Even the most adherent social media checkers are likely to shy away from that one these days, especially since even asking is now illegal in some states. In fact, the recent legal trends have been moving increasingly in favor of the privacy of your applicants, over the curiosity of your hiring managers.
There’s even a chance that looking through an applicant’s Facebook could reveal information that makes it difficult or impossible to comply with fair hiring laws. So when considering social media research our rule of thumb needs to be that if you can’t ask it in an interview, you can’t research for it, either. A potential hire’s religion, ethnicity, romantic orientation, level of ability are all typically off-limits questions in an interview, and all things you could easily stumble upon in a Facebook profile. The legal implications get very messy very quickly, and we’ve already seen lawsuits born from social media misuse.
As the kids say, #Yikes.
The bottom line
If you’re so worried about knowing who your candidate is and who they’ll be at your company, you’ll get a much more fair and accurate picture from people who know and have worked with them before. Their workplace references can probably tell you everything you need to know about the office decorum of your potential hire, without any of the iffy Facebook creeping.
Does your company check applicant’s social media accounts? Has it stopped you from hiring anyone? What’s your favorite zombie movie? Let me know in the comments below.
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