More employers using social media to screen applicants

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Put down the red Solo cup. Delete that 140-character, expletive-laden rant. Walk away from a sexually-suggestive photo op.

Long after those scenarios are buried in a friend’s Facebook Timeline, they still remain visible for scrutiny by potential employers.

In an increasingly competitive job market, putting your best foot forward in the interview process means more than showing up on time, prepared and dressed in appropriate attire. As people become increasingly tangled in the web of social media, how job applicants present themselves online can affect their job prospects.

Social media miscues also can affect someone’s ability to remain employed. The Internet is awash in stories of people losing jobs because of social media posts their employers found objectionable.

“Like everyone needs a resume, everyone needs a good online reputation,” said Mike Moriarty, a partner at Go Fish Digital, a Washington, D.C.-based online reputation management firm. “You are going to be Googled.”

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 20 percent of employers screen applicants by Googling them and scanning their social media profiles.

In extreme cases, employers have requested applicants hand over usernames and passwords for social media sites so they can log in to view material hidden by privacy filters. In January, Oregon became the 12th state to ban that practice. As of May 30, 16 other states had pending legislation to the same effect.

Repairing a job-seeker’s online reputation is a burgeoning industry. There are seven businesses providing online reputation management services in the Idaho Falls area. Services start around $400 per month. Prices increase based on the severity of the client’s reputation damage.

As tech-savvy millennials graduate college and seek employment in competitive careers, they need to be aware online reputations can decimate job opportunities.

“Kids have gotten in trouble and done things so dumb where they got press,” Moriarty said. “It destroys your reputation.”

While that is an extreme scenario, Moriarty said it does happen. In addition to using the Internet to filter applicants, it’s also a way for employers to get a better look into an applicant’s life to see if they are a fit with the company. It’s foolish for an applicant to expect his Facebook profile information to stay between him and his friends, he said.

Brittany Hargis, sales and marketing lead for Manwaring Web Solutions in Idaho Falls, said the company works daily with customers to improve their online reputations.

“One of the things we find in a lot of cases these days, (employers) will refer to social media and online searches to find anything they can about you,” Hargis said. “It’s easier to find now than ever.”

Recent graduates aren’t the only ones who should be wary of that practice. While adults who are established in their careers might not have risque photos online, a quick scan through a Facebook profile could give a potential employer information that would be illegal to ask in the interview process, such as age, marital status, race and sexual orientation.

Depending on privacy settings, potential employers also could learn about an applicant’s views on three topics that shouldn’t be discussed at work: sex, religion and politics.

Representatives from many major eastern Idaho employers, including Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Brigham Young University-Idaho and Idaho Falls School District 91, said they don’t view an applicant’s social media profiles.

“For all employees, volunteers and vendors that spend a lot of time in our hospital, we do an extensive background check and check the Idaho state repository,” EIRMC spokeswoman Coleen Niemann said. “(We also do) a drug test and breathalyzer. We do not check social media or casual online searches … although it is a good idea for those wanting to work (at the hospital) to represent themselves well online.”

Melaleuca and Ball Ventures LLC declined comment on the matter.

Misty Benjamin, spokeswoman for Idaho National Laboratory, didn’t rule out investigating an applicant’s online profile as a tool in the interview process.

“INL does a thorough background check that includes several sources,” Benjamin said in an email.

Regardless of a potential employer’s policies, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether the company screened an applicant online.

In a 2012 survey by careerbuilder.com, 37 percent of the 2,303 hiring managers surveyed said they use social media to vet applicants. Eleven percent said they were planning to enact the practice soon.

The screening process might be happening even earlier than many think.

A 2013 survey by Kaplan Test Prep found that 31 percent of the 381 admissions officers surveyed from colleges around the country have looked through social media profiles of applicants. That is up 5 percent from a survey the previous year.

For Moriarty, Facebook and Twitter aren’t places to interact with friends. They are a platform to create a personal brand. While having virtually no online presence isn’t always detrimental, it also isn’t helpful, he said.

Recent graduates should utilize every tool available to them to land a job, he said.

“When you get out of college, you cut your hair and get a suit,” Moriarty said. “It’s the same with social media. It’s time to grow up.”

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