Your Online Behavior has Consequences – Social Media Used to Screen Job Applicants

We’ve been cautioning people for a long time that what they post online can have serious implications for their careers.

Last month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection stated that Social Intelligence, a consumer reporting agency and background screening service company that provides human resources, legal, compliance, and risk management organizations with information to assist in hiring decisions, may continue its work as long as it informs its clients of their legal obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Practically speaking, this means that the information that current employees and job applicants place on publicly-available social sites and elsewhere – or that others publish about them – is fair game, as long as the individual is later informed of any adverse action (for example not being hired) taken on the basis of the reports that Social Intelligence generates which contain employer-defined objectionable material.

According to a Social Intelligence spokesperson, “as per our policies and obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the only information we collect on job applicants is employer defined criteria that is legally allowable in the hiring process. Examples of this include racist remarks, sexually explicit photos or videos, or illegal activity such as drug use.”

Social Intelligence COO Geoffrey Andrews stated that:

In a given pool of candidates they screen, there are usually 20% who don’t pop up in an Internet/social media screen (“despite what some media have claimed, we don’t see a no-hit candidate as a negative thing”), 60% have a neutral or positive Internet footprint (“we’ll flag positive things in addition to the negative, such as awards received or an active presence on an industry blog”), and 5-20% of applicants have something negative out there about them. In an executive screen of older candidates, it’s closer to 5%, but in an applicant pool for a lower level of job with younger applicants who are more likely to have an Internet presence, it hits that higher 20%.

So what kinds of things does Social Intelligence search online for? As reported in Forbes, it’s instances of “employees’ disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, professional misconduct, or illegal activity” and “that monitoring does sometimes extend to looking to make sure an employee isn’t criticizing the company somewhere or getting into Internet fights with colleagues.” And by the way, negative information is stored for 7 years.

Prospective employees can, of course, not give their consent to a company to conduct a social media background screen check, but that in itself could result in them being passed over in favor of someone who greenlights the screening.