A recent study at the social networking site Career Builder Dot Com indicates that one in five prospective employers use social networking sites to check out prospective employees. This is an increase of 11% from a similar survey done last year.2
Was this good or bad for the employees? Likely, that question can be addressed at several levels.
For instance, one person may have an increased chance of being hired because of some judgment made by an employer, whereby the same judgment reduces another person’s chances. “So what?” you may say … “that’s how it works.” Well, maybe. But if the information being obtained is a violation of someone’s privacy, or is otherwise inappropriate … say, boob size, to keep with the theme du week … then ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for potential employees has to be reinterpreted in the broader context of ethics and rights.
It turns out that 34% of those employers who check people out on line report that they removed candidates from consideration based on the information they found. The most common reasons for this were evidence of drinking or drug use, or “provocative or inappropriate photographs or information.” Less common was evidence for poor communication skills or discriminatory remarks related to race, gender, religion, etc.
Most of these judgments are probably inappropriate for a number of reasons. For example, if I say “I think religion sucks” would that disqualify me from a job in a bank? If it does, then I, not some religious person, am the one being discriminated against. You see, the problem here is that judgments of this type being made outside the normal HR context are not likely to be done correctly. What qualifies some dude with a mouse and a computer and access to the internet to act in a way that keeps an even playing field among the candidates, or to make a proper judgment that is not in itself discriminatory or unfair?
Among the reasons for disqualification we also find evidence of unprofessional behavior (including having an unprofessional screen name) or evidence of release of confidential information or, in some cases, badmouthing a former boss.
A lower percentage of those responding to the poll (24%) indicated that information from social networking sites had a positive influence in some cases. The most common positive effects were support for the stated qualifications (as in documentation), communication skills, and “good fit for the company’s culture.”
What? Good fit for the company’s culture. Say what? Good fit for the company’s culture.
Jesus Tits, Margaret, WTF does that mean? White? Straight? Gay? Too much/not enough face hardware? Wow.
I think it would be a mistake to assume that these two outcomes … getting bumped off a short list vs. getting brownie points … correspond to potentially inappropriate vs. appropriate treatment of candidates. If Mighty White Mary gets the job because in her facebook photo she is visibly white, Afro-Am Joan’s blackness may not have hurt her directly (Joan does not have a social networking site in my made up example) but she has still been discriminated against.
Personally, I think this is just how it is. Our presence on the internet is now a reality for many people. What is needed to keep this from going (continuing to go?) terribly wrong is explicit recognition of the fact that those reviewing job applications are doing this, and an attendant HR policy. Such a policy may be “don’t do this,” or it might involve training so that applicaiton reviewers understand what they are looking at.
Judgment. It is all around us.
1. This is an interesting thing to ponder. In a world where getting a post doc is difficult, why is one culling out jobs this way? Well, even so, one probably does not want to work for an ass. So, it makes sense. Yet, is this one characteristic accurately measured in this context? What did this grad student wear? And so on. Pragmatically … I’m thinking of two women I know quite well who are in the searching for post doc phase. If one of them said this to me, I’d think, “Yea, good idea.” If the other one said this to me, I’d think, “Oh, and what other evil plans did you carry out that day.” Judging, testing, challenging …. these are useful tools but they are sharp edged tools. I do not automatically assume that everyone so armed is trustworthy. is this important? No, it is a footnote.
2 A quick review of the reported methodology reveals that this is probably a reasonable poll.