Should job seekers be careful about social media background checks by employers?

Background checks have been part of hiring processes for a long time. Google search as a background check started a few years ago. In the online world, cabinets are sometimes translucent and skeletons are visible. Alternatively, to make a more relevant analogy, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. These “skeletons” made up of bits and bytes are a concern if you are in the job market.

Background checks have been part of hiring processes for a long time. Google search as a Social Media background check started a few years ago. Things have gotten serious since then, as companies actively watch you are Facebook and Twitter posts (or any other social profile) to determine if you’re suitable for a job.

It is not just the hiring process, but social media background checks are the latest screening tools used by colleges and universities. Bob Sullivan’s MSNBC article raises an issue that happened in Maryland. Why only Maryland, but companies in other parts of the world use background checks on social profiles. In my country (India), we have a well-developed hiring system with outsourcing companies doing background checks in many cases. Now they are entering the online social space.

Today, companies use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as hiring tools. Most companies have their own presence on these sites. Therefore, it’s natural to expect that they’ll scour the web for the right candidate and filter their selection with several checks. Heck, there are startups doing the work for them and it looks like an HR niche of tomorrow. Look at companies like Repay and social intelligence to understand the hiring process that has come from the digital age.

Should You Scream Privacy Invasion?

In the United States, you probably cannot as the Federal Trade Commission says it’s okay to verify seven years of publicly available information from social media and websites. Last year, social intelligence came into the spotlight because of this decision. The FTC found the company compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In other words, if you have information publicly available on the web, you are in the crosshairs.

In my opinion, this will always be a borderline case for companies and candidates. An aggrieved candidate can easily sue the offending company. Without getting into the legal language, it’s hard to see how the candidate’s charge will hold water if he’s volunteered by giving access to his social profile or is publicly available. But the case could be charged against a company if they fire an employee for no clear reason.

There have been instances where employees have been asked to leave based on drunk photos posted on Facebook while on vacation. See this ABC News video cast. An employee can cry out against discrimination and build a case. Discrimination against sexual orientation or other factors could be a minefield. It could be worse if a company mistakenly identifies itself. The good news is that companies use social profiles to screen and recruit candidates. Look at it this way – it gives you, the candidate/employee, a powerful tool to get hired. All you have to do is create a clean and professional profile.

You can advertise your skills, display your portfolio, network with influencers, follow industry discussions, and more. Keep in mind that some companies might be looking to hire you based on what you do on the web. A well-thought-out social media plan could give you the edge over another candidate.

Stay engaged – Manage your social profiles

Privacy is the first step, but there are other things you can do to wear the right online suit for the job. Do a self-audit. Go through your online profiles and do a Google search for anything potentially embarrassing. Create a positive image on the web. Give your online reputation the same consideration as your real one. As always, keep the privacy filters on.