Imagine it’s 2 a.m. You’re on the computer trying to finish that camp counselor job application because you need to get paid this summer. Finally, you get to the last step of your application: “Attach links to your social media below.” You wonder why they would want your social media, knowing the job requires you to be in rural Minnesota with neither cell service nor Wi-Fi for three months.
If you are anything like me, you hate applying for jobs, and your social media presence is practically nonexistent. In addition to references, resumes and cover letters, employers are also now checking social media. According to a nationwide 2017 CareerBuilder study, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates, 54 percent have decided not to hire a candidate based on their social media profiles and 39 percent chose not to hire someone due to inappropriate photographs, videos or information. The category of “inappropriate” is vague; it covers everything from drug use to poor communication skills. Having an employer screen your social media makes sense if you are looking for a job involving communication, such as a social media manager or marketing specialist. For most jobs, however, the cons of using social media in the hiring process outweigh the pros. Screening prospective employees through social media is a flawed practice because it violates the candidate’s privacy and it is easy to take social media posts out of context.
In 2018, there are several employee identity protection laws in place, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. These protections, in combination, prevent employers from discriminating based on race, gender, sex, nationality, ability or age. Through social media screening, recruiters may learn about job applicants’ age, sex, religion, national origin and disabilities, therefore creating the opportunity for bias. According to business strategy publication Workforce, employers nationwide can screen job candidates’ social media without their knowledge. This means there is no transparency in what companies do with applicant’s social media. Because social media screening is a new issue, there are currently no court cases in which someone accused a company of discriminating against an applicant based on the applicant’s social media profiles. Nevertheless, the lack of legal precedent does not negate the fact that discrimination could happen as a result of this process.
Recruiters can also take photos and posts on an applicant’s account out of context and can falsely interpret these posts as problematic. For example, if a prospective employee posts a picture of themselves smiling and holding a piña colada, the recruiter might assume the applicant has a drinking problem. However, the drink could be a virgin piña colada, or it could be a special occasion. Either way, the employer doesn’t have the full story.
If recruiters want to screen applicants’ social media, it requires applicants to have public accounts. People keep their social media accounts private because they like having the freedom to choose who enters their trust circle. Personally, I only have a Facebook and a LinkedIn account. On Facebook, I just keep my profile picture public, because I want to choose who gets to see the pictures my friends and I took at Griffith Park last week. According to the CareerBuilder study, 57 percent of employers are less likely to call someone in for an interview if they can’t find a job candidate online, and 36 percent like to gather more information before calling in a candidate for an interview. Not only do companies expect applicants to have social media, but companies expect candidates to have plenty of public information for the employer to view. Encouraging applicants to make their accounts public, or rejecting a candidate for having a private account or no account, forces applicants to sacrifice their privacy.
Although asking for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts may lead to discrimination and invade candidates’ privacy, asking for a LinkedIn account is acceptable. LinkedIn is a website in which employees talk about the fields they are interested in and network with one another. This is a social media account employers should ask for because it’s business-related and gives recruiters an idea of the employee’s interest and work history.
It is only acceptable to screen all forms of social media when a candidate is going for a job that works explicitly with social media, like a job in marketing or a company’s social media manager. Recruiters should hold these applicants’ social media accounts to a higher standard because, in these situations, having a curated and appropriate social media is part of being a good employee. However, employers should also consider the candidate as a full person and rely on in-person interviews as well.
In most professions, social media accounts are irrelevant to the applicant’s ability to be a good employee. If someone is applying to be a camp counselor in the middle of the woods, it doesn’t matter if they know how to use a hashtag properly. Likewise, it’s irrelevant if a restaurant dishwasher can create the perfect Instagram post. Cover letters, as well as interviews, are already designed to give the employer an idea of who the person is. An in-person interview can provide the employer a better sense of who the candidate is because it reveals what the applicant will be like in a professional setting.
Although applicants should maintain a LinkedIn account, a company should not expect them to provide other forms of social media unless the applicant’s profession explicitly requires social media proficiency. Ultimately, an employer should get to know the candidate through other application materials.
Margot Heron is a sophomore Critical Theory and Social Justice and Spanish double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.