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Employers' pre-hire social media screening becoming less popular

When social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter first exploded onto the scene, a lot of people didn't think about them in terms of how they might affect a job search. Some employers, however, seemed avid to find out what embarrassing photos and late-night rants prospective employees might have posted online.

Social media users are frequently reminded to keep reputation in mind when posting -- especially because it seemed that pre-employment social media screening was destined to become an important consideration in every hiring decision. Interestingly, however, background checks involving social media are actually on the wane, according to one professional employment-screening specialist.

There may still be a treasure trove of information available about potential candidates in those social media accounts, but far fewer human resources professionals are interested these days, he said. For one thing, a number of states have proposed or passed privacy laws limiting employers' use of such information. For another, over time we've learned that identifying authentic information online can be dicey. Also, many people took advantage of privacy changes on Facebook and other sites to screen their profiles from the public -- and potential employers.

The riskiest proposition in using social media as a pre-employment screening tool, however, is the possibility it could encourage discrimination actions, the expert noted. An online search could easily reveal the applicant's age, disability, race or religion -- or any factor employers aren't legally allowed to take into account when making hiring decisions. If an applicant made it as far as the background check and was abruptly turned away after a social media screening, that applicant might well wonder if discrimination was a factor.

As recently as 2011, a Society for Human Resource Management survey found that only 26 percent of companies routinely used any form of online search when screening job candidates, and even fewer -- only 18 percent -- checked applicants' social media profiles.

This is good news for employee privacy. If you're in the job market, however, you should keep in mind that some potential employers are going to look at your online activity. Try to use that to your advantage.

Source: Pioneer Press, "Potential Employers are Scaling Back Social Media Screening," Hal M. Bundrick, MainStreet, Dec. 26, 2013

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