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July 10, 2012

Is It a Company’s Business to Check Social Media History of Job Applicants?

Whether you are hiring someone for a part-time job or a full-time gig with lots of responsibility, do you as a business owner care about their social media footprints?

As it turns out, the answer to that question appears to be that more and more businesses do.

A number of surveys over the last couple of years indicate that business owners are using social media profiles of those wanting to work with them to delve into issues like character, responsibility and trustworthiness. While one’s social media profile must be kept in context when considering hiring someone for employment, it can be a window into the applicant’s personality, be it good or bad.

According to a survey commissioned by CareerBuilder, 37 percent of more than 2,000 hiring managers polled said they use social networking sites to look into the backgrounds of job applicants, with more than 65 percent of that group using Facebook as their number one resource. Another 11 percent reported that they would be using such means to screen candidates before the end of the year. Lastly, 15 percent of businesses reported having policies in place that explicitly prohibited human resources departments from using the sites as a hiring resource.

Of the hiring managers that viewed social networking sites, 65 percent stated that they used them to determine if the applicant “presents him-or-herself professionally.” Half used social media networks to find out if the applicant would be a good match with the company’s culture, and 45 percent sought to find out more regarding the candidates’ qualifications.

For applicants that think their social media profiles cannot be detrimental to them, take note that 12 percent of hiring managers that use the sites to research candidates said they were specifically seeking reasons not to hire the individual.

Nonetheless, 34 percent of hiring managers claim they had come across one or more factors that caused them not to hire a candidate. In nearly half of these cases, the individual posted a provocative photo or had made reference to alcohol or drug use.

So, as more employers turn to social media to research potential hires, what should the applicant be doing to lessen the chances that their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other profiles could be their downfall?

Among the things to keep in mind include:

* Separate Personal and Professional – For those looking for work, make sure you highlight your professional LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook profile etc. It is fine to have some “fun” photos and sayings on a personal site, but make sure the professional social media page or pages are the ones you link to on your resume. Most employers will understand some risque pictures on a personal site, so long as that is not indicative of who you are 24/7;

* Tidy up the Personal Social Media Pages – Even if you have a professional link for social media pages, be sure to go through your personal pages and “clean up” any photos or sayings that could come back to haunt you. Either through images or statements, do not make it known that you are irresponsible with money, like to party every night and have issues with race, gender, etc. Such actions could come back to cost you a potential job;

* Promote the Positives in Your Life – Social media sites are a great means by which you can promote yourself in a positive way. Use your profile/s to note any community involvement, awards won, recent accolades at other jobs or while in school, etc. While you do not need to note you were the junior high spelling champ, use your social media details to show employers that you are an upstanding citizen and would be worth a good look at employment with them.

While there are no federal laws in place to protect job applicants from employers researching their social media sites, some states have taken the matter under review over the last year. The issue has also caught the attention of a number of social media sites, including the most notable one.

Earlier this year, Facebook warned employers not to ask job applicants for their passwords to the site so they can research their profiles. The social media giant threatened legal action against applications that violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords.

If you are in doubt of something you posted on a social media site prior to job hunting and/or interviewing for a position, use the old mom test.

Quite simply, would you let your mom see the post or picture?

If the answer is no, the employer should not see it either.

Miguel Salcido has been a professional SEO consultant for over 9 years, holding Director and VP positions at large agencies. He now offers consulting services through his site,