Posted by: LYF | December 9, 2008

Employer’s using Facebook

I met a friend for drinks three weeks ago.  He had just come from a job interview.  And like I expected he said it went well.  But he was a little put off when the interviewer alluded to checking his Facebook profile.  Their conversation went a bit like this;

Interviewer: So, did you ever get up on that surfboard?

Friend: Umm pardon? I’m not sure I understand.

Interviewer: In one of your display pics, your were surfing.  Did you ever manage to get up on the board?

I know people who don’t actively “censor” their facebook accounts.  Probably, because they never thought it would be an issue.  But it might become one if employers increasingly check them.  Is this a good strategy –  using Facebook as an initial screening tool for new applicants?  I honestly don’t know.  I only have this one anecdote to draw on and I haven’t done any real research.  So here are my musings on what I think the consequences might be.

For University Grads

If employer’s are checking Facebook, users may start raising their privacy settings – especially if some content can be considered “unprofessional.”  If large groups of employers increasingly use this approach, it may lead to self-censorship across other sites like Flickr, Myspace and especially CollegeHumor. For example, there may be less videos like this in the future.  But that may be taking it a bit too far.  Most likely, I assume people will restrict access to their Facebook profiles.

Taking a more proactive approach, Facebook users might tailor their profiles to reflect the type of candidate they think recruiters are looking for.  So at the extreme this means BS’ing all their interests, favorite books or movies etc.  Maybe even going one step further and creating a “corporate” Facebook profile that can be viewed publicly, while keeping their actual one private.  These are obviously pretty extreme.  I would expect users to take a more rational approach and untag themselves from certain pictures and delete inappropriate wall comments.

For Employers

Using Facebook as an inital screening tool may not be in a company’s best interest.  Is Facebook a good metric of how a person will act in a professional setting?  Maybe?  But probably not.  I’m not saying don’t screen applicants.  I am saying that using Facebook instead of other tools – i.e. phone calls, reference checks, group interviews – or disproportionately weighting it relative to other tools may lead to poor hiring decisions.

As recruiters go through an applicant’s profile, they may not “get” the person they’re screening.  Recruiters may misinterpret a snoop dogg lyric for actual behaviour.  They may see someone’s religious views as “uber-atheist” and fail to get that person’s inside joke.  There’s just so much room for misinterpretation.  Even worse, without anything that points to the contrary, there’s a huge opportunity for recruiters to fall into a negative evidence scenario and pass over great people.


I have a pretty limited knowledge on this subject.  So if anyone has any thoughts/anecdotes please let me know.

For more reading on this topic check out here, here and here.


  1. It’s a horrible idea and an absolute violation privacy. My company’s HR people would can anyone who tried to pull that stunt.

    Having said that, when you’re a student applying for work, you can’t expect everyone’s company to be as enlightened.

    I’m surprised by people who leave their profiles wide-open, and whether it’s because they’re A) unaware everyone can see everything or B) don’t care.

    If it’s “B”, that’s your choice – and this post applies to you.

    Anyone in the former, group, though, should spend a few minutes locking things down.

  2. Keep in mind that the Times article is 2006 vintage – that was when the “whole world and their mom” were starting to join.

    Since then you hope people have figured out what they’re doing.

  3. A recent survey of Human Resource professionals found that 20 percent of employers have used social networking sites to conduct checks on job candidates. Jobs have been lost, sponsorships withdrawn etc as a result of social profiles. The solution is to behave online as you would in public – your information is not secure. Read this article about being careful in cyberspace Three steps to take when beginning your job search

  4. If someone leaves their FB profile open, there’s no invasion of privacy there. Getting people’s online profiling is becoming a norm now as there’s enough of a market that companies are charging big prices to do this. As to whether or not it’s a good reflection of someone in a professional setting, hard to say, but I’d go with it as just one more indicator as who ever said somebody in an interview or on a resume was a good indicator of how they’d be in a professional setting? I’d rather see a person in a normal setting, adjust for how everybody would be silly at parties and such, to gauge how a person might really be like rather than their acting in an interview or self-proclaimed greatness on a resume. Besides, if someone parties a lot and looks like they’re drunk a lot, or gambles a lot, how would I know it might not carry over to affect their performance? Call it fair or biased, if you leave your profile open for bad judgment, that’s your fault and would be just one more indicator of you someone will judge you on. That’s why I wrote my series of Facebook etiquette posts, including a guide.

  5. The idea of monitoring your online profile seems to be an issue that’s already been addressed enough in detail. I was trying to take this concept – employers checking facebook profiles – in a new direction. I wanted to brainstorm about the long-term consequences of this strategy and how it might affect employers and applicants.

    Julia & Envirostats – based on your comments, it appears like you guys were more eager to link to your own sites than actual read my post.

  6. I think there’s a real risk of mistaken identities here.

    Based on the limited details an employer has on the applicant (name and city/university), even if the applicant takes the appropriate steps to keep their profile private, the HR person may see another profile with the identical details as said applicant and make a false negative assumption based on what they find and the applicant may get passed over for an interview.

    Do you remember the “ghetto dude email” incident last year ( One unfortunate individual shared the same name of the government staffer who made the error and suffered because of it.

    Any company with competent HR professionals should not engage in this practice.

  7. Wow, that’s intense. I didn’t even think of that – employers looking up people and finding someone else with the same name. That must have been awful for that girl.

  8. I say ban them (you know who). 😉

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