Sex, drugs and your new job role

Interviewers are increasingly likely to check out candidates’ social media profiles. It’s a controversial practice, but is it justified?

Many interviewers now make the most of public social media profiles to conduct research on prospective job candidates

Talking heads online privacy Rita Lobo

Don’t hire me for my private interests

Employers are using social media to strengthen their hiring process, but candidates have a right to a life outside the office

Social media has invaded the business world with the same ferocity it took over our personal lives around half a decade ago. Our various online profiles have become indicators of who we are, open for the world to see and interpret as they wish. It is unsurprising that the internet is littered with advice about how to spruce up our social media presence in order to impress employers and potential business connections. And just like that, work has invaded yet another aspect of our lives.

It is not that social media isn’t useful in business – it is – and can be a great way to outwardly connect with customers. But on a personal level, it is another way to dehumanise an employee and reduce him or her to simple a worker.

There is plenty of advice for jobseekers online, with experts suggesting the best way for one to present oneself online and get the most positive attention from potential employers. LinkedIn was created with the sole purpose of helping employers and potential employees connect, and business contacts to network online. And it is a fabulous tool because it is tailored for showcasing business experience and achievements. But when potential employers start looking beyond LinkedIn, and into Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, then a line has been crossed from business interest to personal life.

Every potential employee is more than a worker. While it may be useful for employees to know the interests, likes and dislikes of the people they work with, those things don’t particularly affect their ability to perform a job well and with integrity – which is why they should not be shy about restricting access to their profiles to keep employers out.

Furthermore, employees should not be willing or feel compelled to sacrifice their privacy and right to a personal life outside the office in order to get a position. It is important for individuals to maintain a private life: one that is shared with friends and family online, but not with a boss or potential employer. Though the term ‘work-life balance’ is often used when discussing a woman’s ability to juggle her career and home life, it is a useful term for everyone, from every gender.

Though employers will argue social media screening helps them avoid some of the many pitfalls inherent to the hiring process and select more suitable candidates for a position, they will never admit that gazing into a potential employees personal life is not only a violation of privacy but could also lead to discrimination. That discrimination might be accidental or even unconscious, but it is very real. It is not uncommon to hire people with similar interest and backgrounds to ourselves, and by glimpsing the private lives of every potential candidate, employers might make unwitting connections about who would be more suitable to a position, not based on their skill or experience. This also raises a lot of important questions about diversity and equal opportunities in the hiring process.

Employers have plenty of tools in their arsenal to ensure they are hiring the most suitable candidate for a position. Background checks and references are still relevant and much more appropriate when screening someone for a position. And, of course, there is the all-important interview where those hiring can get a more than adequate idea of a candidate’s ability and style than they ever could from browsing their holiday snaps or retweets.

Talking Heads Online Privacy Jules Gray

Facebook isn’t a place for privacy

Social networks give potential employers a better understanding of a candidate, helping them find the person who’s the best fit

The days when the success of a job application rested on a highly polished CV and a well-rehearsed performance during a job interview appear to be long gone. Potential employers want to know an increasing amount of background information before they even commit to offering a candidate an interview. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Flickr, Pinterest or a personal blog, an individuals’ online presences are increasingly being screened by companies during job applications.

While people may have valid concerns about privacy and maintaining a work-life balance, it seems somewhat daft to want to try to keep their personal – and truer – selves quite distinct from the persona they would assume at work. It is also quite understandable that companies would want to know as much about a potential new employee as possible, before giving them a job. For a company looking to hire new members of staff, the process is time-consuming, expensive and risky. It is obvious they would want to lower the potential risks by finding out as much about a candidate as possible.

Clearly LinkedIn is a social network designed for the workplace and for promoting people’s careers. It serves as an online CV, so employers will certainly be looking at that first when trawling the internet for more background information. What many people are concerned about is the potential for employers to want to access a candidate’s Facebook or Twitter account – as if the employers will see the candidate has a fun and interesting life, and isn’t the serious, work-obsessed person they pretended to be, and hold it against them.

In reality, employers would much rather select a well-rounded individual who’s likely to be able to fit into the working environment and get along with colleagues, than someone incapable of interacting with people outside the office. They’re also well within their rights to want to know the candidate they’re considering giving a full-time contract to isn’t completely unhinged. This works for the candidate too, as the chances are that, if an employer disliked a person because of certain lifestyle and personal choices, then that person would probably not want to work for their company in the first place.

Social networks can also be advantageous to both employers and candidates in taking away much of the awkward formalities and introductions that go on in job interviews. If an employer has had the chance to get a feel for what the candidate is really like – and not just based on what they’ve carefully constructed in their CV – then the interview can be tailored towards the specifics of the actual job.

There has been controversy over a few companies asking candidates to allow them access to their private Facebook profiles: this is clearly different to them just browsing public profiles. Companies can’t demand access and users are obviously free to say no if they do. The range of privacy settings on most social networks – admittedly sometimes not that obviously located – means users are free to hide whatever it is about themselves they are terrified a potential employer might see.

By definition, social networks are for people to connect with others and present themselves in the way they would like to be seen. Extending that to how potential employers see a user is a natural progression from a CV, and one candidates should be embracing, rather than panicking about.

Related topics: ,