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The Bottom Line: Hiring Practices Meet Social Media

June 15, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Connections
E-mail About the Author

Technology simultaneously has made job hunting simpler and more daunting. Many readers may remember the days of scouring the help wanted ads, typing résumés on vellum and hoping for a phone call requesting an interview. Computers and the Internet transformed that process into one that involves clicking one’s way through applications for hundreds of job openings in only a few days. The hope factor still exists … except now it’s in the form of opening emails.

But similar to all the other ways technology has changed life, the ever-evolving communications world now affects the job search and hiring process in new respects. And once again, legislation is having a hard time keeping up with new capabilities.

Social media is one of the latest entries into the mix. It didn’t take long for parents to warn their nearing-adulthood children to be careful about what they put on their Facebook pages. While teenagers were happily posting pictures of their newest tattoos and parties, tech-savvy moms and dads were reminding them that once information is on the Internet, it’s there forever. Some kids laughed this warning off with a chuckle and a hand wave.

Well, the day of reckoning is here. Some employers are visiting social media sites in the standard course of reviewing job applicants’ backgrounds. Before a well-dressed job seeker walks into a company’s human resources department, the potential boss has read the résumé and surfed the Web. And those pictures of college parties featuring crazy costumes and raised shot glasses may leave quite the wrong impression.

This practice is leading to the call for social media company policies that rival the need for information security policies required only a few years ago. Organizations are being encouraged by the legal profession to develop not only policies about the use of social media during work hours but also it use in the hiring process. Companies are being warned to utilize sites such as Facebook carefully and consistently because they can reveal information that includes whether a job candidate belongs to a protected class—a question that would be considered inappropriate or illegal during a job interview.

At the same time, job applicants are cautioned to question corporate representatives who ask for their passwords to social networking sites. In this case, legislatures are beginning to step in. Bills have been introduced—and in some cases enacted—in several states that outlaw such requests. When such a request is made, job seekers are encouraged to ask if the information a potential employer seeks can be provided in some other way, lest they appear to be hiding something.

The bottom line is that social media can offer the unemployed or those seeking an upgrade in their employment a wonderful means to network and stay abreast of professional opportunities. But as with all new capabilities, caveats must be attached on both sides of the interview desk.