According to The Harris Poll, 70% of employers use social media screenings to research job candidates, and 55% have rejected applicants based on the content they found. If your social media profiles are NSFW (not safe for work), it might be time to clean things up.
But are employers walking a fine line digging up dirt online?
If you’re starting a job search, here’s the 411 on the types of social media screenings that may happen and what you need to do to reduce red flags.
What Are Social Media Screenings?
Pre-employment social media screenings help research a person’s social media profiles and activities on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok, and more. Generally, employers are looking at what is posted, liked, and commented on. Depending on the platform and the user’s security settings, any information posted publicly online is there to stay and available to be viewed by the public, free of charge. While employers must disclose and get consent for formal background checks, simply “Googling” a job candidate is a very grey area.
Red flags that might pop up during an informal search include the sharing of illegal activities, offensive comments, violent or aggressive behavior or tone, sexually explicit material, or the sharing of confidential information. Any of these is an almost-guaranteed pass on a candidate. Artificial intelligence (AI) screening methods can help by “scouring publicly accessible social media accounts, news stories and blogs for red-flag material that could threaten a company’s workplace culture and brand,” reports SHRM.
“Any information uncovered in social media screenings that affect your hireability can and should relate to your ability to do the job,” adds The HT Group President Chad Macy. “Your behavior and attitude are central to these key factors.”
But bias—intended or not—can also creep in. A study reported by Harvard Business Review and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed that the social media profiles of 266 U.S. job seekers contained common red flags: 51% contained profanity, 11% gambling, 26% showed or referenced alcohol consumption, and 7% referenced drug use. But details also showed up that companies may be legally prohibited from considering, including gender, race, and ethnicity (100% of profiles); disabilities (7%); pregnancy status (3%); sexual orientation (59%); political views (21%); and religious affiliation (41%).
“You can see why many recruiters love social media—it allows them to discover all the information they aren’t allowed to ask about during an interview,” says Chad Van Iddekinge, a professor at the University of Iowa and one of the study’s researchers. “But that’s a problem, because one of the hallmarks of legal hiring practices is that they focus on behaviors within the work context. There should be a clear distinction between what people do during work and what they do outside of it.”
Unconscious Bias and Legal Landmines
Anytime a human is involved, like it or not, unconscious bias can become a factor. Whether blatant or unconscious, certain cues are taken from social profiles that can paint a picture of the candidate: your age, religion, marital status, personality, race, and even gender or sexual preference. These factors shouldn’t play a role in employability in most cases (it’s illegal for some to be considered at all), but once those hints are thrown out there, they’re difficult to ignore. Humans tend to hire people who look, act, and think like them.
As part of the study covered by Harvard Business Review, recruiters looked at randomly selected social profiles and had them rate the candidate based on what they saw. While the recruiters paid attention to the relevant job data, they did seem to be swayed by gender, marital status, and religion.
Tidy Up Social Profiles
Since you know employers are looking, the Muse recommends taking these simple steps to clean up your social profiles:
- Deactivate old accounts. Google yourself and see what pops up. You might be surprised to find an old VSCO, Reddit, or YouTube account from days long gone by.
- Make your personal accounts private. Go to settings and choose “private” or “only friends” so the world can’t instantly see your personal profiles. You might also consider accepting friend requests from, well, only your friends. LinkedIn is the best place to accept connection requests from co-workers, bosses, colleagues, etc.
- Archive inappropriate posts. You don’t have to delete your activity permanently. Archive your photos on Instagram, save your Snaps to memories, or hide content from your Facebook settings. Do a quick scan of photos you’ve posted or been tagged in and archive any that might be inappropriate.
- Change your profile picture and cover photos. You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Your profile picture and cover photo are the first things someone will see when conducting social media screenings. Make sure they are appropriate and tasteful.
- Start posting relevant information. Hiring managers love seeing you share industry-specific news, quote, or articles. This is especially relevant to Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Follow people or companies who are thought leaders or inspire you. This will give a recruiter excellent insight into who you are and who you admire. It can also show that you are up-to-date on relevant trends and news sites.
- Look for a company’s social media policy. Many employers—particularly large or high-profile ones—have social media policies in place for employees. Some of those policies are even available online. Check to see if your social media behavior aligns with their policy or at least with what seems to be the generally accepted social media behavior within their industry.
- Discuss your concerns with your HT Group recruiter. If you have any questions or concerns about social media screenings, ask an HT Group recruiter for guidance. As outside recruiters, they’re your advocates in navigating the recruiting process.
As questionable as they may be, social media screenings in some form are here to stay. With so many employers using them as a screening method, making sure your profiles are in top shape before starting a job search is best. If you have any questions or need some help making sure your social profiles won’t raise any red flags, The HT Group is here to help.