Employers Researching Applicants Online


Over at the New York Times Bits Blog, Jenna Wortham writes:

According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com, 45 percent of employers questioned are using social networks to screen job candidates — more than double from a year earlier, when a similar survey found that just 22 percent of supervisors were researching potential hires on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The study, which questioned 2,667 managers and human resource workers, found that 35 percent of employers decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered on a social networking site. (The survey has no margin of sampling error because it was not drawn from a representative nationwide sample but rather from volunteer participants.)

According to the report, most employers did their research on applicants by using Facebook.  I wonder whether they respected the applicants’ privacy settings.  If the applicants limited the access of their profile to a select group of friends, and the employer accessed that profile, then the employer might find themselves at odds with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — with possible criminal penalties!

What leads to job rejections?  Photos!  Photos involving nudity, drink, and drugs are the most frequent job killers.

As I discuss in The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, people must learn to be more careful about what they post about themselves and others or else they will face serious consequences and lost opportunities.

In an earlier post regarding college admissions officers researching applicants online, I argued that most lack guidelines for how they conduct such research and for how they use the information they find.  These questions also pertain to employers:

* Should such information be used? When?

* How heavily should it be relied upon?

* What kinds of things should negatively impact an applicant? Information about sex life? Drug use? Drinking? Bad behavior?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information was accurate?

* Should a distinction be made between information that people post about themselves and information that others have posted about them, perhaps invading their privacy without their consent?

* What steps should be taken to make sure that the information used in fact relates to the applicant and not to somebody else with the same name?

* Should people be notified that information online was used against them and be given an opportunity to be heard to explain it?

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