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Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion]

Saikat Basu 09-05-2012

Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion] privacyIn the online world, cupboards are sometimes translucent and skeletons are visible. Or to draw a more apt 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 long. Google Search as a background check started few years back. Things have got far serious since then as companies are actively looking at your Facebook and Twitter (or any other social profile) postings to determine your suitability for a job.

It’s not only the hiring process, but social media background checks are the latest screening tools being used by colleges and universities too. Bob Sullivan’s blog post on MSNBC raises an issue that happened in Maryland.

The Hiring Weapon: It’s Around the World

Why only Maryland, but companies in other parts of the world are resorting to background checks on social profiles. In my country (India), we have a well-developed hiring system with outsourcing companies handling background checks in many instances. Now, they are stepping into the online social space.

Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion] background check01

Today, companies use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as hiring tools. Most companies have their own presence on these sites. So, it is natural to expect that they will scour the web for the right candidate and filter his selection with multiple checks. Heck, there are startups that do the job for them and it looks to be a HR niche of tomorrow. Take a look at companies like Reppify and  Social Intelligence to understand the hiring process that has come of digital age.


Should You Shout Invasion Of Privacy?

In the United States, you probably can’t as the Federal Trade Commission says it’s okay to check seven years’ worth of publicly-available information from social networks and websites. Last year, Social Intelligence came into the limelight because of this ruling. The FTC found the company compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In other words, if you have publicly available information on the web, you are in the crosshairs.

The argument is – are companies looking at publicly available information or are they asking for access to private data? The former is fair game…the second is a much greyer area.

Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion] shutterstock cartoon1

In my opinion, it is always going to be borderline case for both companies and candidates. A wronged candidate can easily sue the offending company. Without going into legal-speak, it’s difficult to see how the candidate’s charge will hold water if he or she has volunteered the information by giving access to their social profile or it is publicly available. But the case could be loaded against a company if they fire an employee without a clear reason.


Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion] shutterstock cartoon2

There have been cases of employees being asked to leave on the basis of drunken pictures posted on Facebook while on vacation. See this ABC News video cast. An employee can shout discrimination and build up a case. Discrimination against sexual orientation or other factors could be a minefield. It could be worse if a company gets an identity wrong.

I couldn’t find a precedent where an employee has hauled a company to the court. A few that start the fire could set up further legal battles and clear the issue.

Use a Background Check to Your Advantage

The silver lining is that companies are using social profiles to screen and hire candidates. Look at it this way – it gives you, the candidate/employee, a powerful tool to get yourself hired. All you have to do is build up a professional squeaky clean profile. That doesn’t sound too difficult does it? (I hope you get the joke in the screenshot below)…


Should Job Seekers Be Careful Of Social Media Background Checks By Employers? [Opinion] background check03
You can advertise your skills, showcase your portfolio, network with influencers, keep up with industry chatter, and more. Keep the thought that some company could be looking to hire you based on what you are doing on the web. A well thought out social media plan could give you the edge over another candidate. That’s where web companies like are serving.

And yes – do keep a strict eye on privacy controls for your social accounts. Here are some previous posts that could be invaluable:

Stay Hired – Manage Your Social Profiles

Privacy is the first step, but there are some more things you can do to wear the right online tie n’ suit for the job. Do a self-audit. Scour your online profiles and do a Google Search to catch anything that could be potentially embarrassing. Create a positive image on the web. Give your online reputation the same consideration you would to your real one. As always, keep the privacy filters on.

Is privacy dead? Do social media make it easier to land a job or get that pink slip? Tell us – would you say yes to a background screening of your social profile in order to land a job? Let’s argue in the comments.


Image Credit: Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock

Related topics: Facebook, Job Searching.

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  1. Scutterman
    May 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    I would walk out of a job interview if the company asked for access to my social network accounts. I use privacy settings and google search result alerts so I can be confidant that people searching me will only find exactly what I want them to see.

    Although, I don't really use social networks any more, so it's a bit easier for me than for most.

    • Saikat
      May 10, 2012 at 5:42 am

      According to most media reports I have come across, the real danger lies in open photo albums. One or two risque photos were taken in the wrong context. On the other hand it's really surprising that so many people (even knowledgeable ones) are so unaware about the right kind of privacy settings when it comes to social media.

      • Scutterman
        May 10, 2012 at 8:12 am

        Yeah, transitioning print designers are particularly susceptible to this I've noticed.

        • Scutterman
          May 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

          Whoops, wrong article. What I meant to say here was that I've got my photo albums locked down too. All anyone should be able to see is my profile picture. I may start posting strategic things publicly, but I'm not going to be looking for another job for a while so there's no great rush