Employers scrutinize job applicants’ social media for good reason

Mekala Lehmunn, Staff Writer

As college students, most of us have applied for a job.


You know how the process works: you create a stellar resume and cover letter, submit your application and cross your fingers. You also update your LinkedIn profile and ensure it showcases your experience, achievements, education and skills, but above all that it looks professional.


That means no inappropriate pictures, unrelated/personal information (pet peeves, favorite bands, what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday), or anything else that might represent yourself poorly.


This is nothing new. We’ve all heard how crucial it is to have a professional-looking LinkedIn profile. But what about our Facebook profiles? Instagram accounts? Even Twitter? Do we have to worry about all of our social media sites when applying for jobs?


The answer is yes.


According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, “70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process.” Employers do so partly because social media offers insights into a candidate’s nature that resumes and cover letters rarely allow.


While you tailor your resume and cover letters to fit each company’s job requirements and values, you don’t do the same with your social networks because these are arenas devoted to informal self-expression. As such, they illustrate a more complete picture of each applicant than all the cover letters, resumes and LinkedIn profiles in the world.


Viewing candidates’ Tumblr, Facebook and other accounts allows employers to verify each resume they read. By typing your name into Instagram, they can determine if you, for example, studied abroad in Kenya from June to August 2017. If you did, your posts will reflect this, even a lack of posts would suggest you were especially busy during that time.


Finally, looking up your social media pages help companies search for signs of criminal activity (including the use of drugs), excessive partying and drinking, inappropriate (i.e. sexist, racist, homophobic) comments, and other clues that you are not compatible with their organization.


Sounds pretty logical, right?


Well, here’s the downside: employers aren’t perfect.


I know it’s shocking to hear, but they’re not. They can be as racist, sexist or otherwise prejudiced as anyone else. As such, they may experience bias for or against a candidate based on personal information found on her or his social media.


For example, if the employer in question dislikes black people, he may not hire Julia Smith who, though Caucasian, has many black friends and posts pictures of her and them on Instagram. Despite Smith’s perfect resume and thoughtful cover letter, the employer decides to throw out her application upon discovering these innocent photographs.


Although travesties like this occur daily, screening social media accounts is still a perfect way to get to know a job applicant before interviewing/hiring them, as long as companies take certain precautions.


What we put on a resume/cover letter or say during an interview only represent part of our personalities: the professional, formal self who dresses nicely and behaves agreeably.


Given this limitation, employers may (and often do) hire people who originally seem perfect for a job, but end up having active drug problems or sexist views that negatively reflect back on their organization.


Scrutinizing candidates’ social media accounts can help mitigate these conflicts. As long as those viewing the accounts are as unbiased as possible, preferably from the HR department, and monitored closely by other neutral parties, it is prudent for employers to view the online presence of potential future employees.  


So, when you finish reading this, go online and check your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr etc. accounts. Is there anything on there you wouldn’t want an employer to see?


Is there anything you would want them to see? If so, make those changes now. Remove or add whatever you need to make yourself look professional.  


For more information on how to impress employers online, contact the Career Center (located in Craven Hall 1400) at 760-750-4900 or make an appointment via Handshake to speak to a Career Counselor.