Should Employers Check Facebook Before Making a Hire?

By Michael Overell - Jul. 11, 2011
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Just how accurate are social profiles in determining the personalities and capabilities of your prospective employees? A recent study found 30% of employers use Facebook and 22% used Twitter to screen candidates. 44% said they would consider this approach in future. But should a candidate’s social profile be fair game in the screening process?

The ethics and validity of a ‘Facebook check’ is an open debate with strong arguments for both sides. Here are a few pros and cons of using this approach in screening candidates.

FOR: ‘Social media checks are fair game in recruitment’

  1. There are situations that make checking a Facebook profile legitimate. An example is if the employee in question works in public relations, advertising, marketing, sales or other industries that otherwise serves as a representative of a certain company. In that case, employers are allowed to ensure that the employee is not being an embarrassment to the company. The company’s name is clearly at stake and employers are responsible for keeping it clean and unrelated to anything that might tarnish or spoil it.

  1. It can serve as an extended resume. An employee who displays his depth of knowledge and interest on his public profile might increase his chances of getting hired. A true passion on a certain subject will be apparent even on a public profile and if the blogs and pictures support it, then that further increases the credibility of his skill.

AGAINST:  ‘Social media checks should be out of bounds’

  1. Online profiles are not meant to be online resumes. You can’t assess someone’s suitability for a role based on an online profile designed to be purely social. A public profile is meant to be a vehicle to interact casually with fellow social networkers. The setting is casual and on a user’s personal time.

    What a candidate posts online should not serve as basis on whether they should be hired or not. This is someone outside of the office, on personal time. Making hires or fires on this information might be discrimination that opens a snooping employer up to legitimate complaints.

  1. Online profile hackers. This is a fairly usual practice in the world of social networking. Someone take over someone their friend’s public online profile and makes a few embarrassing changes. Any employer making a hiring decision on this information would be making a mistake. The result? One potentially good employee down the drain.

  1. What you see is what you don’t get. Online profiles are designed to keep your anonymity at premium. It is your chance to virtually build yourself a cyber you. A (hardworking) introvert might put up some photos, input some details and tweak their personality to liven up their social life. They may want to meet some exciting and a wide variety of people online. When an employer chances upon his “cyber” self, will they discount him because of ideas of partying and drinking abound on his profile?

It’s a tricky issue without an obvious answer. The water becomes even murkier with a number of Facebook applications specifically focused on recruiting (eg Branchout and Monster’s recent effort with BeKnown). However, these applications do attempt to draw a very clear line between users’ personal and professional information on Facebook.

A few other articles cautioning the use of social media checks:

  • ‘Here’s why social network background checks still concern me’
  • ‘Social Media and Employment Law: Six Things You Need To Know’
  • For candidates:  ‘Are drunk Facebook photos killing your job prospects?’

As an employer, the right approach for your business may be very different from someone else. But it’s worth being aware of both sides of the debate, and being mindful of candidate’s right to privacy.

What do you think – is a Facebook profile fair game in recruitment?


Michael Overell

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