A few weeks ago, the Portland Business Journal published an article about House Bill 2654. This bill would prevent employers from asking their employees to friend them or give them access to their social media sites. These social media protection laws, according to the article, were passed in several states last year and 33 other states, including Oregon, are considering adding them this year. The basis for the bill is preventing employers from obtaining information they aren’t legally entitled to know about job applicants, such as marital status, religion, children, and other personal information.
Researching a job applicant is important, and an increasing number of employers will reference a potential employee’s social media sites in some way. The social network LinkedIn, for example, exists largely in part to connect professionals with potential jobs and recruiters actively use the network to search for candidates. 76.9% of users say the #1 reason they like the network is to research people and companies. Beyond LinkedIn, a recent survey indicated 70% of hiring managers made the decision not to hire someone based on information they found on a person’s social media sites.
Individuals currently seeking employment are often advised to “clean up” their social media profiles before turning in resumes by deleting unprofessional pictures, removing any associations that might be frowned upon, scrubbing their newsfeed of any comments that could be viewed in a negative light. This is true for every network from LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. We are a social world, and it stands to reason that a savvy employer is going to want to know everything they can about a candidate before committing to them.
What you and I choose to put on our social media profiles for public consumption is just that – public. Anyone can see it, and there’s nothing explicitly wrong with a potential employer searching for a profile and looking at it. What is a problem is if that employer asks the candidate for the information (whether in the form of a friend request or password information), or if the information they find on social media profiles gives them a bias one way or another about hiring the individual. For example, one study showed that employers favored candidates with a LinkedIn profile picture over those who did not have a picture on their profile. Intentional or not, even just looking can cause preferences to be made based on personal information that shouldn’t have any professional bearing.
So what’s the solution? While information can be easily found online, a quote from Paula Barran in the Portland Business Journal article advises employers to instead hone their interviewing skills to uncover information they want to know. It’s important to realize that sometimes, what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you. Just because there are “dirty little secrets” that could be uncovered about what a job candidate did in high school doesn’t mean they have to be.
For small business owners who have growing businesses, this is an important issue to be aware of. Requesting social media information during the hiring and interview process has pretty big legal implications. Accessing that information aside from the interview could lead down a TMI rabbit hole – and Too Much Information can get employers in trouble. What are your thoughts about the use of social media for screening candidates?