Facebook – A Hiring Manager’s Best Friend

A reader writes….

Dear Anita,

I own a small business and am in the process of hiring a few employees.  As part of my “screening,” I have looked up candidates on Facebook.  Since I’m not “friends” with these people on the site, I am unable to access a lot of their information.  In some cases, however, their profile picture alone tells me whether or not I want to hire them. Is it considered legal or illegal to make hiring decisions based purely on photos or “Wall” posts?   

Dear “Digital Detective,”

I love your question and believe it is a subject that not only pertains to supervisors and hiring managers… but to job seekers as well.

To cut to the chase, I highly recommend you DO NOT make hiring decisions based on what you see on Facebook.  While it may be tempting, there are several factors you must consider when hiring employees.  Moreover, you may be crossing the line. Remember, discrimination in any form based on Social Media that you view (whether pictures or comments) because of race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, medical condition, pregnancy, childbirth, mental disability, physical disability, veteran status, marital status, registered domestic partner status, or genetic characteristic is against the law.

Despite this warning, it is interesting to note that according to a survey by Microsoft, 75% of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals report that their companies REQUIRE them to do online research about candidates.  This type of “digital detective work” (as I like to call it) includes social networking sites, blogs, online gaming sites, and more.  To top it off, 70% of U.S. recruiters report that they have rejected candidates because of information they have found online (including photos)… sound familiar?

Job seekers… listen up!  While it may be fun to post pictures from last night’s party (for the world to see), believe it when I tell you, your potential employer may be seeing it too.  Does that mean you don’t have the right to post such fun memories?  Of course not!  But be warned, anything you post online can be searched, accessed, saved, and in the case of getting hired… used against you.
Take it from Anita, think twice before you upload!

In a New York Times article posted last summer, it was noted that,  “there are more than 100 million registered Twitter users, and the Library of Congress announced that it will be acquiring — and permanently storing — the entire archive of public Twitter posts since 2006.” Hmm…  Any incriminating “tweets” out there, my friends?

So getting back to the question at hand – Is it legal or illegal to make hiring decisions based on photos, etc…

I’m not an attorney, but from what I’ve read, it looks like there are a lot of people out there that would like to see this hiring practice eliminated.   Facebook photos and updates are meant to be fun, light-hearted, and personal – without “Big Brother” watching.  Some have equated Facebook as being the new break room gossip – where the boss is not supposed to be listening in!

The New York Times article goes on to say, “A handful of states — including New York, California, Colorado and North Dakota — broadly prohibit employers from discriminating against employees for legal off-duty conduct like smoking. Paul Ohm (a law professor at the University of Colorado) suggests that these laws could be extended to prevent certain categories of employers from refusing to hire people based on Facebook pictures, status updates and other legal but embarrassing personal information. (In practice, these laws might be hard to enforce, since employers might not disclose the real reason for their hiring decisions, so employers, like credit-reporting agents, might also be required by law to disclose to job candidates the negative information in their digital files.)”

To read the complete NY Times article, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/magazine/25privacy-t2.html?pagewanted=all

And if you’re interested in reading more on this subject, here are a few additional links for your convenience:

Part 1: http://www.employmentblawg.com/2006/employers-using-facebook-for-background-checking-part-i/

Part 2: http://www.employmentblawg.com/2006/more-on-using-facebook-et-al-in-recruiting-and-hiring/

Part 3: http://www.employmentblawg.com/employers-using-facebook-for-background-checking-part-iii/


This is a heated topic folks… and now it’s YOUR turn to post your thoughts and comments.

Tell me readers, should hiring managers use Facebook as part of their decision-making process?
If you’re a manager, do you include this step? If so, what has it revealed?

Anxious to hear from you!

22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Professional Presentation « Job Talk with Anita Clew
  2. A Facebook user and job seeker
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 17:54:27

    I think that any employer that u whses Facebook or other social media for hiring decisions is seriously misguided. There was a recent Dateline true story on television recently that highlighted that a large percentage of the people on facebook are completely a fake, non-existent person/ The story tells of a woman in Michigan that was trying to sell her art online and that was not going well, so she invented a child on facebook that claimed to be the artist and then since the child was the artist the sales of her art took off greatly. Although I communicate with people I know from my high school, I would be very uncomfortable communicating with someone that I don’t personally know. With all that said I have made my picture on Facebook very generic and I don’t feel comfortable posting much information about myself that strangers could view. So when an employer uses Facebook etc for hiring decisions how do they know that the information they are using is even accurate or truthful. Besides I still this is an invasion of one’s privacy and could be considered illegal under the laws of discrimination. For example Facebook asks you to post your marital and relationship status, yet the law does not allow the employer to ask your marital status. So if a employer could find out whether or not I am married that could be considered discrimination and illegal hiring practices. I totally believe that many employers are using this practice. For example the employers sometimes go to Google and search under your name. Google allows you to have a profile similar to Facebook. Again this is another way and website where employers can gather information on you and to discriminate.



    • m.capriola
      Sep 21, 2011 @ 07:05:18

      Some good points made here.

      Yes, your employer can check out your marital status, but how does he know that it is the truth? Another thing to consider is that Facebook is very public. When you go to post text or pictures in Facebook ask yourself if this is stuff you’d want to see in your local newspaper. It’s that public. And Facebook is a gossip column read by millions of people.

      An employer is going to call references and former employers, check school and work records, and quite possible check for a criminal record. Facebook is just one more tool. An employer may check you out on Facebook to see what kind of person you are. And as I’ve said before, just as we have to eschew colorful or wild clothing and accessorties when attending a job interview, our Facebook personae should not show a wild side that might put off a potential employer. You don’t need to post pictures of yourself binge drinking or mooning the camera. I doubt that I’d hire you if you were that indiscreet. This may not be fair, but it’s what happens.

      Advice from someone who’s never had a Facebook account. :p



    • Cheryl Ann Cayce
      Nov 27, 2011 @ 14:30:07

      I dont put my facew On Facebook because you never know who is watching you. LinkedIn I dont know. I’m a newbie about these sites. Do they REALLY work. Now if ito learn something about a future company and you want to hear from the employees if its a good/bad place to work, OK but everthing else, I stay away from.



  3. lame
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 03:23:32

    i think that whoever had spent their personel time on making one of these stupid pages is freaken pathetic and has no life but to be as old as they are still playing childish games grow up or take as you please im not hard to find sweetie



    • m.capriola
      Aug 15, 2011 @ 08:30:46

      Good point.

      However, if our hunter-gatherer ancestors were anything like those still around today, they spend about a dozen or so hours a week working and the rest of the time socializing.

      That’s why people walk around all day with their cell phones plastered to their ears and why we have Facebook in the first place. We would rather socialize than work.

      Human nature really hasn’t changed all that much in the past 100,000 years, except that we became willing to live in very large groups and select certain individuals to “lead” us.



  4. Raquel Arraiga
    Jul 26, 2011 @ 10:25:18




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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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