Can Social Media Harm Your Job Search?

Yes and no. Facebook Logo

This post stems from a Tweet yesterday by my local NBC affiliate and not because they Tweeted it.  Rather, because of its substance –

Some employers are asking job candidates for their social media passwords

First and foremost, that’s a complete invasion of privacy.  Period.  That should be the end of the story but it’s not.

I don’t know which I’m most angered about – the idea that a prospective employer wishes to engage in the invasion of a candidate’s privacy OR that yet again that this implies that there’s this perception out there that social media should be considered as scary.  Come on, people!  How many times do we have to tell you it’s not?!

I get that employers need to know the personality behind the prospective candidate.  They need to know that s/he can be trusted with confidential company information.  They need to know that s/he is a professional and perhaps that the potential employee is a good “fit” for their company.  I totally get that.  BUT, to ask a person to fork over their personal passwords to further research that same individual to that extent, I’m sorry but that’s where I personally draw the line.

A company should spend the time getting to know the prospective candidate – engage them in conversation not just about their experience and background but take an interest in how they spend their leisure time.  Genuinely ask that person where s/he hopes to be in five years or what their goals are and listen; not listen for your benefit based on the job requirements but for who that person really is.  By getting to know the candidate for the real person they are, that should give the perspective employer a bit of a clue as to how they fit in their corporate culture.

FacebookProfileHere’s another idea…and it’s probably radical…but I would think the perspective employee would welcome an opportunity to explain their online life from just about any aspect so they might be willing to do this – ask that person to share his/her Facebook profile with you or their My Space page or whatever it is they may have blocked from public view.  Not all candidates would agree to this but some might.  I know I personally wouldn’t have a problem with this because there is nothing that I’ve ever put out there that I’m ashamed by or embarassed about or what have you.

For those candidates that don’t wish to share, employers shouldn’t panic but rather ask that person to kindly explain why.  If the individual states that they really only share those particular profiles with friends and family, then the prospective employer should respect that.

There are countless ways to gauge who an employee is – reference checks, these days LinkedIn profiles, multiple meetings with a candidate, etc.  And don’t forget, most companies have a 90-day probationary period.  There’s a reason for that.  If an employer is truly using that period as it is intended, well then guess what – you don’t like what you see, you have the right to let that person go.  Yes, that would mean starting the process over again but I would hope that the majority of new hires are NOT released after that 90-day period because the employer has done a thorough job of interviewing, reference-checking, etc. and the employee has turned out to be a valuable asset to the team after all.

Now, as for you job seekers out there – the BEST piece of advice I can give you, the best rule of thumb – don’t put anything (a comment, a picture, a status update, etc.) out there that you wouldn’t want ANYone to see.  Be tasteful and professional in most everything you do and you have a better shot at respect.  Don’t get yourself into situations that you can’t control but could somehow come back to bite you in the patooty because evidence has been posted to a social networking site contradicting the person that you actually are. Your one moment of weakness could get out there for all to see.

Am I saying don’t take a picture of you and a friend with a glass of beer sitting with a group of folks who happen to like the same football team you do?  No.  If you enjoy watching the game each Sunday with friends and you want to document it on film, go for it.  That just shows you have a private life beyond your professional one.  However, taking a picture of you in a compromising position, drinking directly out of a Keg or doing a “shotgun” (yes, I was in college too many moons ago.), etc. …yeah…so NOT appropriate.

Lesson – what you do in your private time is up to you but just know that with the use and prevalence of social media tools today, the chances of your photo, comment, or status update being posted, re-posted, etc. are there.  So, don’t do something I wouldn’t do.  Bottom line!

Still, does that excuse prospective employers from gaining access to your private accounts?  Oh heck, no!  And any employer that feels that it’s necessary to do so, I don’t want to work for because that tells me 3 things –

  1. They don’t have a valid system in place in which to screen a candidate.
  2. They don’t care to take the time to screen a candidate thoroughly.
  3. Personal privacy is of no concern to them.


If there are any employers out there currently looking to hire for open positions, I implore you to think twice before going this route.  And if those same employers are scared of social media, I also implore you to attend ANY symposium or conference on the subject to learn how best to use it and manage it for your organization.  Don’t be scared.  Vigilant, yes.  Smart, yes.  Scared, not necessary.

One final note, my Facebook profile is set to private but a have a policy as to why.  I don’t allow just anyone to become “Friends” with me.  I must personally know the individual, have at least met them in person, and most importantly can feel comfortable sitting down for a glass of wine or a cold beer with (or some other beverage) before I will accept a “Friend Request”.  There is absolutely nothing on my Facebook profile that I am embarassed about or ashamed of but it’s the principle of the thing for me.  A “friend” is more “personal” than say a “follower” (on Twitter).  So, this is the path that I personally choose.  However, I’m happy to share my profile with anyone who asks.  🙂

And that’s my two cents.  What are your thoughts?  Would love to hear them!


Lisa 🙂

4 Responses to “Can Social Media Harm Your Job Search?”
  1. HeatherO says:

    Hmm…so many thoughts on this! 🙂
    First off, the password thing makes NO sense! Sounds like someone was confused in the statement, or in how to access the info.
    Secondly, My feeling is BE who you ARE, but BE the best you can be! It’s like I tell my kids, if you are worried about anyone finding out something that you have done, is it because YOU believe that what you’re doing is wrong? If so, don’t do it! If not, then go for it. Are there some people that may think it’s wrong, or not hire you because of it? Absolutely! Are there people who won’t hire because of a whole litany of judgments that we wouldn’t agree with? Absolutely! Question is, would you want to work for them anyway???
    If this “economic thing” teaches us only one thing, I PRAY that it is to find our purpose and passion and spend our lives making a living in a way that makes us happy! Working for someone who wants to know you’re every move and personal secrets (is likely completely paranoid) would probably be miserable anyway!
    Imagine though, being hired by someone who actually knows you and who you are! Imagine working for someone who doesn’t mind that you have a tattoo, or love hockey, or go to church, or whatever. How cool is that?
    Remember, this isn’t a radical new concept. There was a time when everybody knew everybody in small towns across this country. If you got drunk every night, people knew! If you were a cheat, liar, whatever, people knew. This isn’t new.
    Post what you want people to know.
    Don’t post what you don’t want people to know.
    If you don’t want to look like a _________, don’t be one
    Spend more energy being the best that you can be – being someone that you can be proud to be, and those that value that will find you and appreciate you!

  2. lasullivan says:

    Jimmy…if I confused you a little, I’m sorry. I tend to get wordy.

    The premise is that there are some employers out there that are unfortunately…and to put it bluntly…scared of social media. On the other hand, they might just be “scared” of hiring the wrong person and they think by checking your personal profiles, it would help them make a decision whether or not to hire you.

    As I said in my post, I totally get wanting to gauge the personality of a potential candidate. I just think there are other ways to make that happen. I don’t think there is anyone out there that disagrees with the idea of requesting your personal passwords being an invasion of privacy. However, there are some potential candidates (like myself) that if asked to share, I’d be happy to share FB and My Space profiles. BUT, it’s really to each his/her own.

    I hope that clarifies my original post for you. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Ashley Sue…the NBC 17 reference was actually based on a link to a blog post suggesting that employers are now asking for personal passwords to the social media accounts of prospective employees. In other words, “Oh hey, you want to work for us? As part of our background check, we would also like to visit your social media sites. However, we notice that some of your accounts are private. We would need the password in order to view. Please provide that to us.”

    The blog post didn’t say that to that extent but it sure as heck implied it. That is absolutely and utterly wrong! If I can find the link again, I will update my post with the link. I meant to include it and forgot. I was that irate!

    Thanks for your comments as well!

  3. jimmynorth says:

    actually, I do not understand why my future boss may need my page at Facebook or so one… (if i’ve understood your blog correctly of course). i think i would not be very happy to give him all this information (moreover, it is personal information).

  4. I completely am with you. Good policy to follow.

    However, I don’t get it… Employers ask for passwords? You only need passwords to get in and tweak an account. Did NBC 17 mean they ask for passwords, or just access to see your private s.m. accounts (which I agree, is also wrong, like you said)? I just don’t quite get how it’s possible that *anyone* would think it is OK or beneficial to actually ask for your *password*… huh? That one is beyond questionable and wrong to just plain bizarre and possibly illegal, I would think.

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