Looking up prospective employees on social networking sites may seem like a good way to vet candidates, but employers should avoid the temptation to snoop, says silicon.com’s Shelley Portet.

Bosses have been warned against using social networks to check up on potential employees in a report published by employment relations body Acas.

The report said managers who use social networks to vet candidates could find themselves facing charges of discrimination if they are considered to have rejected a candidate because of information they found about their age, sexuality or religion.

But it also conceded that it is unlikely rejected applicants will be able to find evidence of discrimination – so it will be up to employers to regulate themselves.

 Your Facebook account may help you connect with more people than you think, including your employer

Your Facebook account may help you connect with more people than you think, including your employerPhoto: Pixelbully

With human nature and the impulse to snoop being what it is, it’s likely many employers will continue to use social networks to vet employees regardless.

While social networks may seem like the ideal way to suss out a candidate, an individual’s personal life shouldn’t become part of the recruitment process.

Before the era of social media, judgements on a candidate were made purely through a CV and an interview, and that’s the way it should remain. Here are my three reasons why.

1. Because everyone has fun, sometimes

We are all entitled to a private life and while employers may argue that Googling candidates is part of finding the right person for the job, they may stumble across some irrelevant aspect of a candidate’s personal life that could affect their judgement.

It is unfortunate that, for the current generation who are trying to get into work, evidence of a fun weekend is often recorded and published all over Facebook and, for those with an open profile, that means potentially put into the hands of their future employer.

While an employer may find it difficult to take a candidate seriously when they have seen a picture of them dressed as a tiger while drinking bright blue shots, that picture should not play a part in deciding that person’s aptitude to fulfil a role.

According to the Acas report, 53 per cent of HR managers cited ‘provocative or inappropriate’ photographs posted on social network sites as a…


…reason to turn down a candidate. Of course, that candidate could have been a model employee in their work life – but the companies in question will now no longer get a chance to find that out.

2. Because you can’t keep everything private

Some would argue that people who post photographs and comments on Facebook are making their private lives public, and that they should be aware of how this may affect future employers’ opinions of them.

To an extent, people do need to take responsibility for the way they present themselves in the public online sphere. Once employed by a company, they are essentially representing that organisation.

Facebook security

Choosing high privacy settings for your Facebook account won’t be enough to stop employers snooping Image: Facebook

That said, I don’t want to completely hide all aspects of my Facebook profile. Yes, I could make myself unsearchable, but I don’t want to. I want to be able to connect with people who are not yet my Facebook friends. I certainly don’t want to give up my Facebook profile for good just for the chance of employment.

Anyone is able to see my profile picture, where I went to university and who I am friends with on Facebook. I don’t think I am being cavalier with the information I am giving out, yet according to the report I could still be judged by recruiters.

The research found that employers make suppositions about a candidate even if all they can see is a profile picture, so to safeguard myself from unfair judgement I would effectively have to make myself invisible online.

Perhaps I have just been on holiday and happen to have a photo of myself in a bikini as my profile picture – does that mean I’m a vain bimbo? No, it means I’ve just been on holiday.

But that profile picture could stop me being considered for a role I might be perfectly able to fulfil, and that does not make sense for me or for the employer.

3. Employers could miss out too

I can understand that employers want to use every tool available to them to vet potential employees. However, I don’t think social network profiles are necessarily an accurate representation of a candidate, and therefore social networks are not the best place to determine a person’s suitability for a role.

According to the Acas report, the most common reason for rejecting a candidate after a social network check was lifestyle-based rather than employment-based, which means employers could be dismissing candidates for the wrong reason.

Reject me because you think I can’t do the job, not because I appear to have a greater inclination than usual for fancy dress.

It would be na