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Keep It Clean: Social Media Screenings Gain in Popularity

image for Iamstocker / Getty Images
Iamstocker / Getty Images

What you post on social media could have serious repercussions on your professional life. It could cost you your current job or future job opportunities.

According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and about 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees. 

Employers look at social media accounts for an array of reasons, but many want to make sure a candidate will be a good fit with their company.

"Because we tend to view our personal social media accounts as being 'personal,' there's a good chance that by viewing someone's profile, you'll get a glimpse into their personality beyond the resume," said DeeAnn Sims, founder of Dark Horse PR.

Before you apply for a job, you should audit your social media accounts. Job seekers should assume that employers will check every social media platform. While it's important to audit every account, there are some platforms hiring managers are more likely to check, such as LinkedIn.

"The three main platforms that most employers check are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter," said Matt Erhard, senior partner at Summit Search Group. "I am personally most interested in the candidate's LinkedIn profile, as it's the most relevant."

Most employers view LinkedIn as a secondary resume and other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as more personal.

"When I check a candidate's Facebook or Twitter, my aim is more to get a sense of them as a person than to look for damaging information," Erhard told Business News Daily.

While the fear of something embarrassing or negative being discovered might tempt some job candidates to completely erase their online persona, employers say that strategy can backfire.

About half of employers – 47% – said they wouldn't call a person for an interview if they can't find them online. More than one-quarter of employers say it's because they like to gather more information before calling a candidate, and 20% say it's because they expect candidates to have an online presence.

"Whether it's intentional or not, this [not having a profile] always feels like you have something to hide," said Sims. "Either you've specifically taken steps to make sure you can't be found or you're using a childish byname – neither of which feels very professional."

In addition to seeming like you're trying to hide something, it's not a good idea to delete your profile, because it doesn't guarantee the data is completely gone. Instead, it's best practice to keep your social accounts clean.

"Erasing all of your profiles often implies that you have something to hide," said Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com. "Many LinkedIn or Instagram accounts may still show up in Google searches [after you delete them], even on a cached basis."[Looking for a background check service? Here are our best picks.]

Despite what job candidates might think, most employers aren't scouring the internet looking for reasons not to hire them. Most employers are looking for reasons to hire someone.

The CareerBuilder study found that 58% of employers conduct social screenings to look for information supporting a candidate's qualifications for the job – 50% want to ensure the candidate has a professional online persona, and 34% want to see what other people are posting about the candidate. Just 24% of those surveyed check social media to search for reasons not to hire someone.

Having their social media pages investigated has paid off for many job seekers. Specifically, 37% of hiring managers said they found information supporting the candidate's professional qualifications, and 33% were impressed with the candidate's professional image. Additionally, 34% thought a candidate displayed excellent creativity.

To learn more about what to post online to optimize your job search, read our guide.

It's completely legal for employers to check public social media platforms, but checking anything beyond public accounts is a gray area.

"I have heard of employers asking candidates to provide their password and login credentials for social media," said Erhard. "This is not technically illegal in many places, though in my mind, it's an uncomfortable invasion of privacy."

It should raise red flags if a company asks for this information, and you should consider withdrawing your application.

"For me, as an employer and recruiter, I'm concerned primarily with the candidate's public social media presence," Erhard explained.

Since it's legal for employers to check public social media accounts, consider making personal accounts private.

"One of the best strategies I have seen is creating multiple, separate social media accounts on social media platforms," Case said. "Job seekers may have a professional Instagram account, for instance, where they share their office and work wins. They may also have a more private personal account that is locked and only allows a select number of individuals to follow it."

Social media accounts don't typically show up on background checks. Most background checks focus on information such as employment history, credit information and legal problems. However, there may be some cases social accounts show up on a social media background check.

"There are companies that run social media-based background checks, but that is a separate paid service," said Erhard. "While I'm aware of its existence, I don't personally know any employers who have utilized that kind of service."

While they might not be searching for anything negative, more than half of the employers who were surveyed (57%) said they found something during their social screenings that led them to not hire someone.

According to the survey, these are the leading types of posts and behavior that left employers with a bad impression:

  1. Job candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information: 40%
  2. Job candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs: 36%
  3. Job candidate had discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.: 31%
  4. Job candidate was linked to criminal behavior: 30%
  5. Job candidate lied about their qualifications: 27%
  6. Job candidate had poor communication skills: 27%
  7. Job candidate bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employees: 25%
  8. Job candidate's screen name was unprofessional: 22%
  9. Job candidate shared confidential information from previous employers: 20%
  10. Job candidate lied about an absence: 16%
  11. Job candidate posted too frequently: 12%

Professionals shouldn't ease up on ensuring their online presence is positive once they land a job. The study found that 48% of employers use social networking sites to research current employees. Of those, 34% have found content that caused them to discipline or even fire an employee.

The CareerBuilder study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across a variety of industries and company sizes in the private sector.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon and Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Saige Driver

Saige received her bachelor's degree in journalism and telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media coordinator for Aptera and also writes for business.com and Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie.