Is it Okay For an Employer to Google or Facebook You?

This article was last updated on January 23

Most people have an online presence in today’s day and age. Whether it is passive (Google searches) or active (Facebook, Twitter) our online history is not that hard to get to for companies that have the right tools, resources and connections. But is this ethical or legal and should your employer or potential employer be able to use online channels to assess you (have your say on the poll to the right)? Even if there were laws to prevent unauthorized searches, would it even be practical to enforce?

According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder, 45 percent of employers questioned are using social networks to screen job candidates — more than double from a year earlier, when a similar survey found that just 22 percent of supervisors were researching potential hires on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. The study, which questioned 2,667 managers and human resource workers, found that 35 percent of employers decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered on a social networking site. (source NY Times)

The report showed that Facebook was the most popular online destination for employers to do their online sleuthing, followed by LinkedIn and MySpace. In addition, 7 percent followed job candidates on Twitter. More than half of the employers who participated in the survey said that provocative photos were the biggest factor contributing to a decision not to hire a potential employee, while 44 percent of employers pinpointed references to drinking and drug use as red flags.

The reality is that potential employers do use online searches when doing background checks, particularly for customer facing jobs or those that require a certain level of secrecy. Existing employers probably assess your on the job performance more than what’s online, but in either case it is much more important to be safe than sorry. So don’t put anything online that you would not be comfortable saying in public (or make sure you use privacy settings). Further, follow up vigorously with anyone or any website trying to defame you online.

2 thoughts on “Is it Okay For an Employer to Google or Facebook You?

  1. There are 2 sides to this and Garth raises one clearly: One hopes that HR puts Facebook (pictures-comments) into context and not simply judge it on face value. On the other hand, your expectation of privacy on Facebook is directly related to the level of privacy settings you choose. If you choose the lowest settings (and post questionable pictures-comments), one could argue it says something about you. Being careful does not hurt.

  2. Everyone should use privacy settings on Facebook even if they think what they post isn’t too bad. You just never know what type of personal biases HR or hiring managers are working from. I have to say though, not hiring someone for poor communication skills on Facebook is a bit silly — like saying I won’t hire you because you told a joke with bad grammar at the restaurant last week, when I was in the booth behind you spying. Facebook is used as a social networking site for most, which means just that — it is *social* as in relaxed speech people use off hours. Can any HR manager or hiring manager say with honesty, they never loosten their spelling, grammar and slang filters when they are talking to their friends on a Saturday? If so, they are too uptight, and probably a disservice their company by letting talented people, with a sense of humor get away, and only hiring uptight drones with gramatically perfect Facebook pages filled with pictures of golf outings.

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