By Alastair Dawson
Finding a new job is rarely easy. You have to identify each opportunity, earn an interview and convince those you meet to hire you. The last thing you want is for other aspects of your life (aside from your skills and experience) to influence your chances at success. That's especially true if you already face some perceived barrier in the job market.
Yet many of us utilize social networking sites in a way that reads more like an online diary than a professional method of communication, which can result in you revealing thoughts and feelings that should be concealed from potential employers and colleagues. And when you do, be prepared for employers to discriminate against you based on your social media postings.
Social media discrimination is where a potential employer or interviewer delves into your social circles and researches what they believe to be your personality. They search such social networking websites as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and any others you may use. Their goal is to uncover information about you and your lifestyle that may imply that you aren't suitable for a position within their company.
The type of information you may reveal via social media can be varied. For example:
- A mother may complain on her online profile about how much time she has to take off from work due to her husband's unwillingness to spend time with the children or care for them. This would imply to employers that her attendance will be poor and that she wouldn't be very reliable.
- A pregnant women who didn't want to disclose that fact can be uncovered via social media. Recruiters could potentially discriminate against her if they found out, using her pregnancy as a reason not to employ her. This would be unfair as they’d be using additional factors other than her ability to perform in the role to decide whether to hire her.
- While social media shouldn't be used by an employer to make their final hiring decision, it can sway their choice.
“For employers that choose to review social media as part of their hiring practices, it’s a better practice to wait until after they’ve met a candidate face to face,” says David Baffa, a partner at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago.
For instance, an employer may look at an applicant’s Twitter or Facebook page and investigate what they see to get a better idea of what the applicant is really like. Through social media, they believe they can discover whether the candidate is motivated, enthusiastic and a productive worker, or whether they’re lazy, listless and aren't interested in progressing at their job.
“The information available through social networks introduces a series of unique legal issues and challenges," reports the Institute for Employment Studies, in Brighton, England. "Social networking sites easily allow the potential for individual biases to affect hiring and screening decisions. Employers are not currently required to disclose what information on what social networking sites were used in making screening decisions, which may allow managers to discriminate against candidates.”
The information that is retrieved from your social media profiles should only be used by the employer as a way of getting to know the real you. It should not be used to discriminate against candidates or as a reason to reject an applicant.
One of the best ways in which you can prevent your interviewer, future employers or colleagues from viewing photos you have posted or descriptions of parties you attended is to ensure that your account is set to private rather than public. If you set your account or profile to private, only those who are friends with you or have been accepted by you will be able to view your profile.
The next step is to ensure that you don't accept people who you don't know. Some employers or interviewers will go so far as to attempt to follow you and befriend you in order to view your social interactions with others.
Another method of preventing your social media networks from negatively influencing your chances is to manually remove any inappropriate, embarrassing or negative content from your profiles. It's an easy way to prevent unwanted discrimination based on what you've posted.
It’s important to remember that although social media can be used against you, it can also be used in your favor. You can present yourself as a smart, talented individual who’s enthusiastic about beginning a new career and who will be an excellent addition to any company.