Beware: Recruiters Are Screening You On Your Social Network Profiles

Your friends and family are not the only ones checking looking at your pictures and reading your tweets

8 January 2010

Not only are Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter popular ways for friends and colleagues to stay in touch, but they also are becoming employers’ favorite tools for recruiting and screening job candidates. And that can lead to undesirable consequences.

To help ensure photos of your wild weekend antics or a video of a profane rant about a former employer won’t cost you a new job, IEEE-USA recently sponsored a webinar titled “Snooping Employers: How Employers Get Background Information on You Prior to the Interview." Elizabeth Lions, a career coach who specializes in working with engineers, presented the hour-long session in November, and it is now available for free. Lions has spent the bulk of her career as a headhunter and has met with thousands of employers as well as candidates. She is the author of Recession Proof Yourself! [Aardvark, 2009], a book on how to find a job during an economic downturn.

With so many companies now surfing the Web to ferret out personal details about would-be employees, “the days of ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ are over,” Lions told nearly 60 webinar attendees. “What happens in Vegas now stays on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.”

Lions covered the reasons why employers use social networking sites, provided some dos and don’ts about what to put on your own Web pages, and went over ways to use social media to your advantage to best market your skills in a down economy.

In tough economic times, companies look to reduce their costs when vetting candidates and turn to social media sites to find talent. Not only is it inexpensive, she points out but, “It’s a quick way to find people without posting an ad on job sites such as, HotJobs, or CareerBuilder,” she says. “The social sites are also a quick and cheap way to get background information on people without tying up time and resources.”

Finding qualified candidates can be as easy as searching LinkedIn for specific skills in a particular city, and sending them an e-mail. Vetting candidates who have applied is simple, too. A quick search will reveal tenure, skill set, and education. It is not uncommon for Human Resource managers to take a few minutes to type in your name on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to review your profile and related information—career as well as personal. Seventy-nine percent of the 60 people who sat in on Lions’s original webinar were listed on LinkedIn, and 21 percent were on Facebook.

“LinkedIn will reveal a lot of interesting information about job candidates,” Lions says. “There are pictures, details about where they went to school, and whether they’re from the Midwest, the West Coast, or the East Coast. These details give a snapshot of who they are from a cultural standpoint. Instantly, I know a lot about you without ever picking up the phone.”

If the candidate’s personal profile shows him or her exhibiting what an organization considers to be undesirable behavior, there probably will never even be a job interview—without the candidate suspecting that they are screened out of the process. This quick, inexpensive research saves an employer the time and expense of running drug tests and credit and background checks, Lions says.

The potential pitfalls should not dissuade you from having an online presence, she says. “Working or not, you should have a LinkedIn profile. It’s your opportunity to show off your professional credentials, and it makes you current with the times,” she adds.

Putting a picture on your profile is optional, but if you decide to do that, professional photos are best. Don’t post any photos that show your children or ones that depict you hiking, biking, or skiing, for example. Save those images for Facebook, which Lions compares to a “backyard barbecue with friends and family.”

Less is more on LinkedIn, so post a brief description of your career, your job title, the industry you’re in, your skill set, your expertise, years of experience, education, and certifications. But don’t clutter the profile with a lot of technical details or jargon. Use your résumé as a guide but don’t post it in its entirety.

“Think of your profile as your calling card or an extended business card,” Lions suggests. “It should be a big, broad brushstroke so that everybody—especially someone in Human Resources—can in 15 seconds or less understand what you do. Don’t make it too long, or people won’t read the whole thing. You want to grab them, and hold them.”

Make sure all your online profiles are consistent, so that potential employers can see the same information. Lastly, don’t post anything that might be considered offensive. “Employers will make a judgment on whatever you put out there, and they are going to make a conclusion,” she cautions.

If you’re about to be interviewed, do some detective work first and check the company’s Web site to become familiar with the organization and, if possible, the people you’ll be meeting. Know the basics such as what the company does, its revenue, and the number of employees. Try to find out as much as you can about the people you expect to interview you, including their job descriptions and where they went to school.

“You need to understand the pecking order of who is in the room, because you want to balance the scales,” Lions says, adding, “If they can research you, you can research them.”

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