A new CareerBuilder survey  reveals that prospective employers use social networks more than ever to check out job applicants--45% of them--and they use Facebook more than LinkedIn. What's even more interesting is how they're using personal info to reject your applications.
Last year a similar survey showed that only 22% of employers were using social networking info to screen job applicants, and the explosive growth in this figure parallels the rise to fame of Facebook and Twitter and the rest, and the fact that it takes a while for the latest social meme to filter its way into typical corporate thinking. But that last point is where the survey data gets incredibly interesting--while you may be well up on the usual habits, norms and joys of social networking, your prospective employer really really isn't. And of those employers who did surf the social 'Nets, 35% reported rejecting a candidate thanks to data they found there.
Look at these stats as to the reasons why, and how many of the employers acted on such data:
- Provocative or inappropriate photos or info--53%
- Drinking or drug use--44%
- Bad-mouthing previous employee, colleague or client--35%
- Poor communication skills--29%
- Discriminatory comments--26%
- Lied about qualifications--24%
- Leaked confidential info from previous job--20%
The drug use, leaking info and lying...okay, I can understand. But if you step back and think about the others, they're absolutely shocking. If you're using a social network, it's to share aspects of your private life. And if you're applying for a high-profile, public-exposed job, then perhaps behaving yourself outside of work will reflect better on your day job. But who would've thought that a photo of you sinking a beer with your mates in a bar (that possibly you didn't even upload) could prejudice an employer against you? And who said that you have to use correct, well punctuated writing on your Facebook profile? Don't even get me started about how wooly the definition of "inappropriate" can be: Does a photo of yourself sunbathing in a bikini count? Possibly, to some overly-stuffy employer.
It gets worse when you look at reasons why a social profile helped a company actually choose an employee: 38% of employers said it was because the candidate was creative, 35% was thanks to "solid communications skills" and 33% was because it made candidates look "well rounded."
The upshot of this data is that there are three ways you can deal with your online data if you're applying for a job:
1. Delete everything, or completely hide your Facebook profile from public view--and impress your employer the traditional way, at interview.
2. Edit your blog, Facebook or MySpace page so that it covers a broad portion of your life (so you look well rounded) and write wittily and compellingly (so you look creative, and a good communicator). Then censor the rest of it to remove pictures of you having too much fun, using spiky or rude language or excessive abbreviations and even clean up comments made by other people on your page, if they could make you look bad. Basically do a heavy-handed PR job, and cover up all your blemishes.
3. This one is tricky, but more interesting: Don't apply to a company that looks at your social network profile to determine your worthiness. Would you invite your employer out with you to a bar, or take them on holiday with you? Nope, but that's what having them sniff through your social network parallels. Everyone's a person, and everyone is fallible. Social networking is typically about interacting with friends, expressing your joys as well as your frustrations, successes as well as failures, and most of it is on an informal basis (LinkedIn being a little different, admittedly). This stuff is just not your employer's business. It's "Work to live," remember...not "Live to Work."
Here's the full press release, which has lots more fascinating data:
Forty-five Percent of Employers Use Social Networking Sites to Research Job Candidates, CareerBuilder Survey Finds
Career Expert Provides DOs and DON'Ts for Job Seekers on Social Networking
CHICAGO, August 19, 2009 - As social networking grows increasingly pervasive, more employers are utilizing these sites to screen potential employees. Forty-five percent of employers reported in a recent CareerBuilder survey that they use social networking sites to research job candidates, a big jump from 22 percent last year. Another 11 percent plan to start using social networking sites for screening. More than 2,600 hiring managers participated in the survey, which was completed in June 2009.
Of those who conduct online searches/background checks of job candidates, 29 percent use Facebook, 26 percent use LinkedIn and 21 percent use MySpace. One-in-ten (11 percent) search blogs while 7 percent follow candidates on Twitter.
The top industries most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines include those that specialize in technology and sensitive information: Information Technology (63 percent) and Professional & Business Services (53 percent).
Why Employers Disregarded Candidates After Screening Online
Job seekers are cautioned to be mindful of the information they post online and how they communicate directly with employers. Thirty-five percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate. The top examples cited include:
- Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information - 53 percent
- Candidate posted content about them drinking or using drugs - 44 percent
- Candidate bad-mouthed their previous employer, co-workers or clients - 35 percent
- Candidate showed poor communication skills - 29 percent
- Candidate made discriminatory comments - 26 percent
- Candidate lied about qualifications - 24 percent
- Candidate shared confidential information from previous employer - 20 percent
Fourteen percent of employers have disregarded a candidate because the candidate sent a message using an emoticon such as a smiley face while 16 percent dismissed a candidate for using text language such as GR8 (great) in an e-mail or job application.
Why Employers Hired Candidates After Screening Online
Job seekers are also encouraged to leverage social media When advertising their skills and experience. Eighteen percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them to hire the candidate. The top examples include:
- Profile provided a good feel for the candidate's personality and fit - 50 percent
- Profile supported candidate's professional qualifications - 39 percent
- Candidate was creative - 38 percent
- Candidate showed solid communication skills - 35 percent
- Candidate was well-rounded - 33 percent
- Other people posted good references about the candidate - 19 percent
- Candidate received awards and accolades - 15 percent
"Social networking is a great way to make connections with potential job opportunities and promote your personal brand across the Internet," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. "Make sure you are using this resource to your advantage by conveying a professional image and underscoring your qualifications."
Haefner recommends the following DOs and DON'Ts to keep a positive image online:
1)DO clean up digital dirt BEFORE you begin your job search. Remove any photos, content and links that can work against you in an employer's eyes.
2)DO consider creating your own professional group on sites like Facebook or BrightFuse.com to establish relationships with thought leaders, recruiters and potential referrals.
3)DO keep gripes offline. Keep the content focused on the positive, whether that relates to professional or personal information. Makes sure to highlight specific accomplishments inside and outside of work.
4)DON'T forget others can see your friends, so be selective about who you accept as friends. Monitor comments made by others. Consider using the "block comments" feature or setting your profile to "private" so only designated friends can view it.
5)DON'Tmention your job search if you're still employed.
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder.com between May 22 and June 10, 2009 among 2,667 hiring managers and human resource professionals (employed full-time; not self-employed; with at least significant involvement in hiring decisions; non- government) ages 18 and over. With a pure probability sample of 2,667 one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.9 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.