Job candidates are often asked to hand over their social media password information, friend hiring managers or log on to a company computer during an interview. Many potential employees, caught off guard and desperate for work, give up their passwords.
Several states have made asking for passwords illegal, but scrutinizing the social media profiles of potential employees is common among hiring managers—even though such practices increase employer bias and have ethical and legal implications like discrimination lawsuits. What you say or share on social media may inadvertently keep you from landing your dream job.
A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University analyzed the impact of online information on U.S. firms’ hiring behavior. The researchers manipulated candidates’ personal information on social media networks, information that is protected under federal or state laws, and the kind that is risky for employers to inquire about during interviews but which may be inferred from applicants’ online social media profiles.
In a field experiment that involved over 4,000 U.S. companies, researchers compared the hiring responses of employers looking at Muslim and Christian candidates, and gay and straight candidates. The results showed evidence of discrimination linked to political party affiliation.
Referencing the 2012 Gallup segmentation of U.S. states according to political ideology, researchers found that discrimination against the Muslim candidate was more pronounced among employers in Romney-leaning states and counties. There was no evidence of discrimination against the gay candidate relative to the straight candidate.
“Employers check social media outlets to check for items that you can’t ask in an interview, and it predominantly goes back to culture fit. For example, if a conservative company hires someone who is not, it is not in the best interest of anyone. Culture fit is critical,” says Taylor Cotterell, VP of NaviTrust.
David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, an HR outsourcing and consulting firm, told FastCompany, “The thing about getting eliminated because of a Facebook status or tweet is that most candidates will never know why they weren’t called back. We don’t tell people why, we just tell them another candidate was more closely a fit for our job.”
But the relative ease of surveying social media profiles to evaluate culture fit does not necessarily justify the practice, particularly when there is evidence that hiring managers discriminate based on the social media evaluations of potential candidates.
Cotterell suggests using “reference checks and behavioral interviewing questions to better understand [a candidates] personality, interests, and how they deal with different situations.”
Online job board Stepstone recently conducted a study in Europe called “Recruitment via social media: fact or hype?” The study is based on research in seven European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. The results provide interesting social recruiting data that isn’t biased towards the US or the UK.
The findings indicate that nearly three-quarters of European employers use social media to find additional information about potential candidates during the recruitment process. Checking social media profiles had a positive influence on the hiring decision in nearly half of cases, but led to rejection of the candidate in a quarter of cases.
When used creatively, social media can help potential candidates stand out from their competitors. But an otherwise impressive CV may also end up in the trash bin because of one inadvertent post or tweet.
Because hiring managers are prone to bias, it’s in a job seeker’s best interest to keep personal information related to age, religion, and political affiliation or leanings out of the public realm and/or set to private on sites like Facebook.
Once employed, workers are often required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media. In a new survey by FindLaw.com, 1 in 25 Americans say their social media posts have led to negative consequences at work, including reprimands and firings.