Networking Sites Give ‘Snapshot’ of Job Candidates

By Toni Vranjes

June 2, 2011

A careless post on Facebook or Twitter, or even a sloppy LinkedIn profile, could disqualify you from the job of your dreams. That’s because employers are tapping into the Internet’s huge memory for their own purposes: finding and evaluating candidates.

According to a survey released in April by the Society for Human Resource Management, 56 percent of HR professionals use social-networking websites to identify potential job candidates – up from 34 percent in 2008.

Another survey, commissioned by Microsoft and released last year, found that 79 percent of U.S. recruiters and hiring managers review online information about job applicants. Also, 70 percent of U.S. hiring managers have rejected candidates based on this online information, the survey found. Their concerns included “inappropriate” comments, “unsuitable” photos, and discomfort with the applicant’s lifestyle.

Searching online can help employers learn more about candidates’ character and online reputation. It also can provide insight into whether someone would be a good cultural fit with the company.

Social-networking sites are particularly valuable sources of information, says Todd Owens, chief operating officer of TalentWise, an employment-screening company based in Bothell, Wash. These websites offer a free and efficient way of learning about someone’s background.

“It’s the easiest way to get a snapshot of a candidate,” Owens says.

One reason recruiters go online is to search for “passive candidates” – those who aren’t actively seeking a new job. Many recruiters go to sites with powerful filtering capabilities, so they can quickly scan profiles, he notes. One especially popular site is LinkedIn, because it focuses on professional networking. After reviewing profiles, recruiters can determine if it’s worth it to pick up the phone and call any of these passive candidates.

In addition, social media allows employers to find out more about active job seekers.

“It’s an opportunity to compare information that has been presented through the employment application or resume, to information they entered into their profile under different circumstances — perhaps when they weren’t looking for a job,” Owens says.

If the search uncovers any discrepancies in job titles, dates of employment, or educational status, then alarm bells would ring.

“Any discrepancy between the way you present yourself to an employer, and the way you present yourself to your social network, is a red flag,” he emphasizes.

The discrepancy could be deliberate, or it might be a careless error. Even if it was merely carelessness, you might not get a chance to explain that to an employer.

“An innocent mistake could mean you don’t get the interview,” Owens notes.

Employers are also looking for other traits. For instance, they’re generally seeking people who will convey their views in a calm, reasoned way, says Mary Wright, a San Francisco employment lawyer.

“If you throw flames on the Internet, the lack of self-restraint will be noted,” says Wright, of the law firm Ogletree Deakins.

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