I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Raleigh
Convention Center as part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals
Network 2019 Conference. I was one of three speakers leading a breakout session
on “Building Your Brand”. I addressed how companies are using social media to
evaluate candidates for employment. Below are snippets from my 10-minute TED-style
talk. If you are interested in understanding how an employer might view your
online presence, take a moment to google yourself and then contact me to learn
how you can use social media in your career in a positive way.
In October, a Texas company publicly shamed a female
candidate by sharing her bikini picture on Instagram. They said that it was a
public service announcement to other candidates of what not to share on social
media if you want a “professional job”. While the company rightfully received
considerable backlash for how they handled this situation, there is an
important lesson in here for all of us.
Prior to transitioning to career coaching, I was a recruiter
for 18 years. In preparation for today, in addition to using my own experience,
I reached out to several other recruiters and HR professionals to better
understand the role that social media plays in how companies view and assess
your candidacy. Whether the social search is part of a formal or informal
hiring process or out of natural curiosity, you can be sure that someone is
looking. The question is, what are the looking for?
Among the recruiters and HR professionals I connected with
the level of digging ran the gamut from casual google searches out of curiosity
to in-depth deep dives through like & follow history.
- When I asked whether or not companies had formal
social media policies, more often than not I found that companies do not have a
formal process outlining:
- when a search is conducted or who is responsible
for conducting a search
- what they do with the information they find
- A survey by the Society for Human Resource
Management unveiled that 57% of companies do not have a policy relating to
screening potential employees’ social media.
- If they have one, the social media review policy
would define both what the employer is and is not looking for in reviewing
social media. For example, a company might include a search for negative
postings about past employers, material relating to alcohol or drug abuse,
crime, dishonesty, etc.
- Many in HR will not check social media until the
candidate has signed off on the background check because of concerns about
discrimination based on the information they now know about a candidate from
seeing them online. It is illegal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and discrimination
laws to use the information found to discriminate against someone because of a
protected class. If the information is related to religion, race, gender or
another protected class, employers need to be careful before using it as the
basis of an employment decision.
- At the other end of the spectrum are the
recruiters who said that checking is part of their MO. Recruiters in this camp
will tell you that social media history is one of the most effective ways for a
company to get a truly honest snapshot into who a candidate is as a person, and
whether or not they are a “cultural fit” with the organization.
- And if it’s not the recruiters, it’s hiring
managers. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers are using
social media to screen candidates during the hiring process. Of those who
conduct social media screening of candidates, 57% say they discovered content
that caused them not to hire a candidate.
First, let’s talk about why they are looking. Several
- It’s a great way to find candidates, especially
in a competitive job market. In fact, more than 70% of the global workforce are
passive candidates. It’s our job to find you. And not just on LinkedIn. One
recruiter that I spoke with recently found a candidate on Instagram. She said
sliding into people’s DMs is part of her job.
- Your social media can give a recruiter a more
accurate or complete picture of who you are when you aren’t trying to be
perfect on your resume and in an interview.
- They want to know if your brand matches theirs
and if you’ll be an advocate for the company. When you work for a company, you
become a walking piece of marketing collateral for the company and ambassadors
of the brand.
- Your posts tell me something about your
judgment. Employers want to hire someone who has strong decision-making skills
and good judgment and ethics. Is what you post how you will behave on the job,
at a meeting or on a client’s site? Will you potentially be disruptive to the
work environment or create a potential liability for the company? Do you
understand what types of content are appropriate for different types of social
Let’s dive into things that companies care about.
- Drug use, heavy drinking, sexually offensive
materials, violent imagery or anything else that reflects poorly on the
applicant, especially discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion
or other sensitive issues.
- A few years ago, we did not move forward with a
candidate because of an excessive number of pictures of drinking/partying on
her social media. She was going to be the assistant to a senior partner and
communicating with clients on his behalf. If I could easily find these
pictures, so could our clients. Right or wrong, the partner did not want those
images to be a reflection of him or the services provided by our company.
- When it comes to drinking (images of taking
shots, drunk on spring break, passed out), the concern is how you will conduct
yourself, especially if your role involves travel for work, attending
conferences or working on a client site. How will you conduct yourself in those
places – will you harm the company’s reputation or hurt a relationship with a
- I’ve been involved in 2 situations in which we
had concerns about the safety of our employees based on the number of images of
guns and gun-related violence on their social media.
- Bad-mouthing previous employer or fellow
- Lying about qualifications.
- Poor communication skills
- I once passed on a candidate because of the
quality of her writing on her Facebook page.
- Links to criminal behavior.
- This is where it can get tricky for an employer
if someone googles a candidate’s name before a background check is run and/or
someone outside of HR becomes aware of this information and passes judgment on
a candidate before they should or in a situation where that criminal behavior
may not be relevant to the job they are being hired for.
- Sharing confidential information from previous
- Unprofessional screen name or handle – I have
passed on candidates for this before.
- Posting too frequently. Will you spend your
workday posting online?
So, what do we do when we find something that concerns
- In a number of situations, there’s a broader
conversation between HR, recruiting and the hiring manager. From an HR
perspective, we need to make sure that we are not potentially discriminating
against candidates and making sure that we are treating all candidates equally
(meaning a hiring manager can’t look at one finalist on Instagram but not
- If the information comes up as part of a
background check covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then we need to give
the person a copy of the information, say it was the basis of our decision, and
allow them to correct or clarify. But it does not mean that we have to hire the
- Often hiring managers/recruiters will just
decide not to move forward and the candidate never knows that they didn’t get
the job because of something found on social media. If the information is not
subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then the employer does not need to
share the information with the candidate.
- Sometimes, companies will ask for another
interview for a candidate who is otherwise a great – this interview is focused
on cultural fit.
If you think you can let your guard down once you’re
employed, that’s not necessarily the case. In the CareerBuilder survey, half of
employers surveyed monitor the social media activities of current employees.
This has resulted in disciplinary action, either terminating or reprimanding an
So, does this mean you shouldn’t have an online presence?
Absolutely not. We know that you are human and have a life
outside of work. And social media can be a great way to find a job. Most of us,
assuming we have a LinkedIn profile, have been approached by recruiters about
job opportunities. In fact, 31% of all hires are proactively sourced. We want
you to have social media so we can find you. 1 in 5 employers expect candidates
to already have an online presence and nearly half of hiring managers say they
are less likely to screen an applicant if they can’t find them online.
You can use social media in a positive way by:
- Providing information that supports your
- Showing your creativity, especially if you are
working in a creative field
- Conveying a professional image
- Sharing your wide range of interests
- Aligning yourself with the values of a positive
- Using strong writing skills
- Sharing awards and accolades
- Asking others to write recommendations for you
- Interacting with a company’s social media
The best strategy is to be vigilant about what you post
online and to monitor when others are tagging you in their posts.
- Keep it PG-rated – you don’t know how people
will feel about profanity, politics, drug use (even if legal in some states),
religion and guns.
- What do you find when you google your name? Who
can see your social media accounts? Are you connected to co-workers or potential
future co-workers? You don’t want to share information that’s too personal or
deceitful, such as photos of you living it up while you’re supposedly out of
the office sick.
- Post work-related content – with the use of
technology and how it’s blurring the lines between work/life, think about how
you can incorporate a positive work image into your social media such as attending
conferences and participating in a company-sponsored event. These things send a
positive message about how you will behave as an employee.
As long as you are purposeful and aware of what you are
sharing online, you shouldn’t have to worry about your candidacy for jobs or
keeping a job you enjoy.