Facebook: career-limiting move?

Posted 12 Jan 2012 by TeriSmith
Facebook@ career-limiting move?

When applying for a new job, candidates spend hours pulling together a targeted, convincing and professional-looking CV to secure that interview. But what if your potential employer is not noticing your impeccable spelling and beautifully formatted covering letter, but instead raising an eyebrow at your flippant comments, risqué photos and questionable ‘check-ins’ on Facebook?

OPP’s business psychologists are presenting the findings of their 2011 study into the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at the BPS Conference in Chester this week. Some of the stats coming out of the study make for sobering reading: 56% of respondents said that they were likely to check out the social media presence of potential employees (although 27% of those surveyed said they would be uncomfortable with the same being done to them). On the flipside, 37% of people said they change their persona online – so looking at their online presence may be misleading anyway.

Press stories have highlighted the case of executive John Flexman, who is suing his employer for constructive dismissal after he was reprimanded for ticking the “Career opportunities” box on his LinkedIn profile. And Aussie sickie-puller Kyle Doyle’s story went viral after he posted a particularly unwise Facebook status update. So what are the dos and don’ts for jobseekers and employers within the ethical minefield of social media?

For jobseekers, some pretty common-sense advice applies: lock down your Facebook profile, and behave on LinkedIn as you would at a professional networking event (without the free bar!). What you are naturally like might influence whether or not you’ve figured this out already: OPP’s research shows that those who are least cautious about using social networking sites score higher on the 16PF measures of Liveliness (more spontaneous) and Abstractedness (more likely to daydream), and lower on Rule-Consciousness and Perfectionism. If this sounds like you, perhaps it’s time you checked your Facebook settings!

The situation for employers is less simple and more thorny. Misuse of social media could result in accusations of discrimination or unfair dismissal, or simply damage an organisation’s reputation. Employers need to tread carefully to avoid breaking the law, avoiding racist, sexist or anti-religious biases that might surface, particularly when the online search may be done in private and not be documented – which is a prime time for prejudice to occur.

Having a clearly stated policy on use of social networking sites in recruitment is crucial, as well as keeping comprehensive records of how you came to decisions about who to interview and employ. But the crux of the advice is really to consider, as for all selection methods, whether the source of information is actually relevant in any way to the job being offered. If not, why use it?

* Disclaimer: No liability will be accepted where any person acts in reliance on these notes or views. Employers and employees should seek specific advice on their particular circumstances at issue.

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