If you think that your social media activity is a personal matter that shouldn’t affect you in the real world, you had better reconsider. The London 2012 Olympics have already proven otherwise, with athletes being banned from the Games for making rude or racist comments on Facebook and Twitter. If a world-class athlete’s career can end on the basis of inappropriate social media behaviour, imagine the impact your Facebook page can have on your job-hunting efforts.
More and more employers admit that they use both search engines and popular networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, to perform background checks on potential employees. Recent surveys conducted on the subject show that one out of three employers monitor applicants’ social media activity in order to assess their character and evaluate their suitability for the job offered. Hiring decisions are also largely affected by a prospective employees’ social networking behaviour. In other words, you might ace the interview and still not get hired if your Facebook or Twitter page provides negative feedback
So, what are employers looking for on your Facebook page? The answer is simple: anything that could prove –or disprove– that you are worth hiring. For example, trashing previous employers or discussing confidential aspects of past jobs publicly reveals severe lack of professionalism. Extreme profanity can also be harmful for your reputation, as it can lead recruiters to question your ability to co-operate with other people in a civilised manner. Some employees will go as far as to take your political or religious views into consideration, which raises another question.
Is it morally –or even legally– right for employers to base their hiring decisions on personal information they find on your social media pages? While it is not illegal for a potential employer to request access to your Facebook or Twitter profile, you can politely decline, directing him to a professional profile instead. Furthermore, any decision that is based on your political, sexual, or religious views constitutes discrimination. In this case, you have the right to take legal action against the employer.
If, on the other hand, you don’t want to get into this mess, there are a few things you can do to prevent your private information from being seen by potential employers. Other than refusing to offer access to your profiles, you can change your pages’ privacy settings to make them invisible to people who are not on your friends’ list. This way, recruiters will not be able to view the information on your profile even if they manage to find it without your consent. You can also choose to “hide” individual posts on your page by choosing the “friends only” setting, in which case employers will only be able to view your publicly shared posts.
A golden rule to managing your social media profiles is “Do not share something unless you want it to be seen”. Many recruiters will go to great lengths to ensure that they are hiring the right people, and your online activity may affect your chances of getting a job. Know your options and insist that you get evaluated on the basis of your abilities –not your social networking skills.