Although social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter are extremely popular and provide individuals with valuable ways of staying in touch with friends, family and associates, the very openness of these services creates pitfalls for those in the job market.
One obvious disadvantage is that most data you post on the Web is available to background checking services, who in turn, sell that data. An employer can then use the information gathered as a screening device during the hiring process.
Social networks such as Facebook make an assumption when you join that you wish to share a certain amount of data and be found by friends, so they make the data that you add to their service freely available and that is probably a good thing. However, with the popularity of Facebook, more people have complained that they want individual control of the data they share and Facebook has responded by attempting to create privacy controls. Still, even with additional safeguards, there is a lot of user-generated content available to those who know where to look.
The Routine Background Check
A background check on a potential employee often includes verifying past employment history, searching public documents for criminal records, searching financial records and checking print and online media for items that might surface on a potential employee. Companies now also routinely include a Google search for information. But when the Human Resource Department hires a social intelligence service, these companies are able to locate information that can be invisible to search engines such as Google.
What are Employers Looking For?
Although it is illegal to consider race, sexual orientation, religion or age, and these factors are routinely left off reports, other character traits are not in a protected class.
In general, companies are looking for what type of person you are, what is your “character.” Do you have violent tendencies, use drug lingo or exhibit traits an employer might consider to be poor judgment? These are all traits that the HR department might wish to consider during the hiring process, as they look for liability issues and compatibility factors for a potential addition to their organization.
After the Hire
Once you are hired is your activity online less likely to be scrutinized by your employer? Apparently not. According to news reports, social intelligence companies also provide an alert service for existing employees, both to monitor behavior and to enforce social media policies. Companies are protective of their image and their reputation and will use the information available on the Web to guard against any perceived damages.
This should not inhibit you from using social networking services, but it's something to consider before you post data about yourself or communicate with others in the online environment of social networking.
Submitted by Jenny Zook, Reference Librarian on October 27, 2010
This article appears in the categories: Law Library