On November 20, the Wall Street Journal posted an article titled “Bosses May Use Social Media to Discriminate Against Job Seekers.” Without even reading the article – just the title – I was already…well, perturbed. After reading the article, I was only slightly less perturbed since the WSJ tried to be balanced in their reporting.
However, given the “scare factor” of the headline, I want to take this time to talk to job seekers and provide some guidance.
By “job seekers,” I am not just addressing anyone who is unemployed and searching for his or her next position OR someone that is employed but searching outside his or her company. The internal job seeker needs take their job search just as seriously, and behave as professionally as anyone in the first two categories.
The hypothesis of the article is that some companies may discriminate against religion, sexuality and other candidate attributes inadvertently identified through personal social media content. Although the results, admittedly, were not statistically significant, the study cited involved fake résumés and social media profiles.
Based on my three decades of experience, here is my feedback for job seekers:
Companies are not looking for ways to discriminate. They are motivated to look for diverse candidates and have policies and procedures that prevent discrimination. Job seekers, don’t play the victim and believe otherwise. With the clients I coach, I often hear “I’m being discriminated against,” by ageism, sexism – particularly being a female in a male-dominated industry, or many other reasons. You just didn’t get the nod. Move on.
Companies are looking for ways to put applicants in the “no” pile. And they are entitled to. With an average of 250 résumés per job posting, they need to narrow down the number of potential candidates who will get a phone or face-to-face interview. For my most recent hires when I was at Microsoft, I worked with my recruiter to sort the pile of applicants. I stopped having a “maybe” pile; and kept just “yes” and “no” piles. Do not confuse this with discrimination. You will never know why you fell into one pile or the other.
Social media is the best way for companies to learn more about you beyond what is in your résumé and cover letter. If you are in job search mode, you should have information on your social media sites that you want employers to see. A 2012 survey by CareerBuilder.com revealed that a third (34%) of hiring managers say they have found information via social media that has caused them not to hire a candidate. Top reasons were inappropriate photos, drinking or using drugs, poor communications skills, and candidates bad-mouthing their prior employers. That’s NOT discrimination.
On the positive side, companies are also looking for reasons to hire you. The type of content that helps job seekers gives the hiring manager or recruiter “a good feel for candidate’s personality, conveying a professional image, and background information that supports professional qualifications,” according to the CareerBuilder.com survey.
There are so many free resources to help you use social media to your advantage, both as a job seeker and an employer. Seek them out and master the art of social media – it’s here to stay!