A survey commissioned by the online employment website CareerBuilder has found that 37 percent of hiring managers use social networking sites to research job applicants, with over 65 percent of that group using Facebook as their primary resource.
The data is based on a nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive in February and March, according to a press release from the company. Researchers asked more than 2,000 hiring managers and other human resources employees if they use social networking sites to inform hiring decisions and, if so, what kinds of information they looked for and whether or not those findings hurt candidates' chances.
Researchers found that 37 percent of the companies surveyed used social networking sites to prescreen candidates, and 11 percent said that they planned to start doing so in the future.
Only 15 percent of companies had policies in place that explicitly prohibited human resources department from using the sites as a hiring resource.
Of the hiring managers that looked at social networking sites, 65 reported that they used them to see if the applicant "presents him- or herself professionally." Half used the sites to determine if the person would be a good fit with the company's culture, and 45 percent wanted to learn more about the candidates' qualifications.
Twelve percent of hiring managers that use the sites said they were specifically looking for reasons not to hire the person.
Nonetheless, 34 percent of hiring managers said they had come across something that caused them not to hire a candidate. In nearly half of these cases, the person posted a provocative photo or had made reference to drinking or drug use.
Other red flags cited were instances of someone speaking badly about a former employer, lying about their qualifications, or simply not being able to write well.
But as companies increasingly use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites during the hiring process, more job applicants are coming forward to protest the practice, especially in cases when hiring managers demand that prospective employees give them passwords to their personal social media accounts.
That's allegedly been the practice for years for the city of Bozeman, Mont., where hiring managers asked job seekers to divulge the usernames and passwords to "any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc." on their application forms, CNET reported.
"Before we offer people employment in a public trust position, we have a responsibility to do a thorough background check," Chuck Winn, Bozeman's assistant city manager, told CNET in an interview. "Shame on us if there was information out there available about a person who applied for a job who was a child molester or had some sort of information out there on the Internet that kind of showed those propensities and we didn't look for it, we didn't ask, and we hired that person."
But Winn's explanation wasn't good enough for many critics, who cited the move as an invasion of privacy. After the story was covered in the local news, residents sent hordes of letters and e-mails to city hall, eventually forcing officials to back down and discontinue the practice.
Shortly thereafter, Facebook even issued a statement saying they objected to the practice not only on ethical grounds, but on legal grounds as well.
"We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's the right thing to do," Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, wrote on the site earlier this year. "But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person."