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Personal Social Media Accounts and the Modern Day Hiring Process

Social media is playing an increasingly pervasive roll in employer practices, largely through recruiting and screening capacities.  While recruiting through social media has proved to be a valuable and effective way to generate employment interest, the practice of screening candidates based on their personal social media accounts brings many legal concerns to light, which may be a reason that as of 2013, only 22%, or roughly over a fifth, of private employers have made the decision to screen candidates via their personal social media accounts.  (www.shrm.org.)

In a related SHRM survey conducted in 2013, 74% of organizations that choose to refrain from screening personal social media accounts admitted that they do so to minimize the risk of discovering information about protected characteristics of candidates.  These characteristics may be as general as a candidate’s age or race, but they could problematically be perceived as creating employer bias or discrimination in granting interviews or hiring, regardless of if the employer took these factors into consideration or not.  Considering information gleaned through social media about a candidate’s religion, race, health condition, or other personal information when choosing whether or not to hire a candidate is illegal.  (www.shrm.org.) The University of Kentucky settled a related case for $125,000 when they removed a candidate in the running for a teaching position after viewing creationism ideas he had publicized on personal social media accounts.

Even in light of the legal dangers employers may encounter through social media screening, this is not to say that social media users need not exercise caution in the information they choose to post.  Many companies continue to screen applicant and candidate social media accounts, and obviously inappropriate posts are not the factor that could damage an applicant’s chances of being hired.  According to TIME, posts involving illegal drugs or sexually explicit content could clearly detriment a candidate’s chances of being hired, however even smaller missteps, such as excessively using incorrect grammar or politically incorrect posts, even in a humorous context, may reflect poorly on a candidate, and affect the hiring manager’s opinion of the applicant subconsciously, if not consciously.

However, if a social media account reflects positively on a candidate, this could boost their chances of being hired.  According to Business Insider, 60% of employers who do screen employees based off of their social media accounts do so to garner information that may bolster their employment portfolio or experiences.  Having a strong professional presence online may display a candidate’s passion or interest for their field, and highlight their personal brand.

Though employers run risks in choosing to screen applicants based on their personal social media accounts, a large portion of employers continue to do so, and it would be to the benefit of every job applicant, and every social media user, to make a habit of posting content that reflects positively on themselves, professionally, and personally.  As far as employers choosing whether or not to make a practice of screening job candidates, exercising caution is key.  As evidenced by the University of Kentucky settlement, using personal social media information in the hiring process is often impermissible, and should be considered with careful discretion.

-Marisah Ali