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Susan M. Heathfield

Do You Snoop Online On Job Applicants?

By September 14, 2012

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My email has brought me a disturbing trend this past year or two. Some employers are asking prospective employees for their passwords to social media sites in which they might participate such as Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook.

I'm not talking about the public, professional profile the potential employee may have carefully developed on sites such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional networking site where potential employees want you to look and read about their accomplishments and connections.

I'm talking about the social media sites where some prospective employees lock their tweets and set up privacy filters on their Facebook pages because they want only friends and family to share. Sure, venture there for their public postings, but asking for passwords to private spaces is over the edge.

I don't think an employer should ever venture there unless invited by the employee or prospective employee. Their private lives are really not your concern - unless they choose to share them. And, even then, access them sparingly. Do you really want workplace performance affected by the contents of his or her Facebook wall?

Careerbuilder Employer Use of Social Media Study

But, many of you disagree with me. A study by Careerbuilder.com concludes that 45% of employers are researching candidates at social media sites compared to 22% during the same time period last year. The study, conducted by Harris International, of 2667 hiring managers, and completed in June, 2009, indicated that another 11% plan to begin screening on social media sites this year.

According to Careerbuilder, of the managers surveyed, "29 percent use Facebook, 26 percent use LinkedIn and 21 percent use MySpace. One-in-ten (11 percent) search blogs while 7 percent follow candidates on Twitter."

35% of managers said that information found on social networking sites eliminated a candidate from contention. Key reasons included inappropriate photographs (53%), drinking or drug use (44%), bad mouthing former employers, coworkers, and customers (35%), exhibiting poor communication skills (29%), discriminatory remarks (26%), lied about their qualifications for the position (24%), and discussed confidential employer information (20%).

On the other hand, employers also found evidence that the candidate would be a good hire: candidate demonstrated a personality that would be a good company fit (50%), consistent professional qualifications (39%), candidate showed creativity (38%) and good communication skills (35%), prospective employee was well-rounded (33%), good references were posted about the candidate (19%) and the candidate received awards and recognition (15%).

Employers need to know that prospective employees are fighting back against this trend. They are using privacy filters on sites like Facebook to disenable public inspection. They are locking out the ability of unwanted people to follow their Twitter comments, and they are going so far as to suspend their social media accounts during a job search. (I understand they don't lose all the data but I have never personally tried it.)

If you search for your candidates on Google or another search engine, make sure you have the right person. Additionally, I recommend that you use such a search to confirm your interest in a candidate and for background checking. Don't go snooping to eliminate a candidate who may have won the job search competition on every other level.

What do you do to find out more about your candidates on social networking sites, professional networking sites, and in Internet search. Please cast your vote in my new poll.

Add your thoughts about researching - snooping - on potential employees on social media in my new readers respond page. I'd love to hear what you think.

More About Professional and Social Media

October 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm
(1) KC says:

Actually some information shared on such sites like religion ,political affiliations are “illegal” to ask an employee on an interview/application so by requesting access to a password would be like asking an potential employee to this information.

October 6, 2009 at 10:34 am
(2) Mel C says:

I agree with KC. One has to be careful about snooping on social sites that could give access to personal information about an employee that would otherwise be protected by law. If refusing to give the information precludes an employee from getting a job, then more power to her.

On the other hand, I do believe one has to be very careful not to post ANYTHING online that would be seen as offensive by a current or prospective employer. I have met some people who have posted questionnable photos, and even though the employer doesn’t have direct access, other employees do and have shared within the office. If you have nothing more on Facebook than what you have in your cubicle (photos of kids, family, etc), then you have nothing to worry about.

October 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm
(3) Sasha says:

Although I have a Facebook, Myspace and Twitter account, I consider them very personal and private. I don’t post anything inappropriate but that is my personal space with my personal friends. If it is public, then they have every right to view it as does everyone else in the world.

Asking me for my password to something that I obviously deemed private enough to assign a pass word to is tantamount to standing in my bedroom window to watch me undress. Or peeking through my kitchen curtain and watching me drink a beer.

Not hiring or firing someone based on things like comments made in frustration about a job (like the recent post where someone went on their Facebook page and called their boss an idiot and then was fired) is really bordering on violation of some type of Civil Rights. If I sat at my desk and a coworker came by and heard me say my boss was stupid, is that a good enough reason to fire me? Have we all not gotten frustrated at one time or another and consider the powers to be out of their minds for the things we think are unreasonable?

If I were the best candidate for a job, with all requirements of the job met and/or exceeded out of a field of 2 candidates, with the other totally not suitable for the job, are you really not going to hire me because I have a picture of me and my friends at a social gathering holding up a mug of beer?

How many corporate outings (Christmas parties, luncheons, golf outings, etc.) have we gone on and seen executive level staff behaving inappropriately (getting drunk, telling bad taste jokes, etc) and it is laughed off? What makes that behavior any different?

Now if I am posting about doing a mass killing, you see me injecting drugs or doing/smoking other illegal paraphernalia, or posing nude, child pornography, then ok, yes I understand. That could potentially damage the image of the company.

However, prospective employers need to REALLY think carefully about that approach to assessing a potential employee. I see lots of lawsuits in the future.

October 7, 2009 at 9:48 am
(4) Lacey says:

We briefly monitored IM’s between a couple of co-workers we had suspicions on; it turned out they were not doing anything to violate company policy so we stopped monitoring them but they did say some things that changed my opinion about them. I have always thought and continue to be of the mindset that you can’t stop people from talking/venting/gossiping, but I learned from this experience that sometimes I see/hear/read things I wish I hadn’t known. I could definitely see how opinions or hiring decisions could be changed after snooping on someone’s Facebook or Twitter pages.

September 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm
(5) ST says:

I have only accessed Facebook once concerning an employee, and only because he was at work and left it open. Postings were completely inappropriate to be seen, accidentally or otherwise, by female staff and especially a high school student. He was put on final warning for misuse of company property.

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