Employers are increasingly trolling the web for information about prospective employees that they can use in their hiring decisions. Consequently, career experts advise job seekers to not post any photos, opinions or information on blogs and social networking websites that a potential employer might find offensive.
Instead of cautioning job seekers to censor their activity online, we job seekers and defenders of our civil liberties should tell employers to stop snooping and to stop judging our behavior outside of work.
I’m tired of career experts advising job seekers to “play it safe” online by not posting any photos, opinions or information on blogs and social networking websites that a potential employer might find remotely off-putting.
I understand where these career counselors are coming from: They’re in the business of dispensing advice that will help people land jobs. Recommending that people “play it safe” is as anodyne as it gets.
But instead of cautioning job seekers to censor their behavior and the information and pictures they post online, we job seekers and defenders of civil liberties should tell employers to stop snooping and stop judging our behavior outside of work. What we do, say and believe in our personal lives in most cases has no bearing on our ability to do a job, barring criminal behavior, of course.
Employer as Voyeur
Employers are increasingly trolling the Web for information about prospective employees that they can use in their hiring decisions. According to a survey CareerBuilder conducted last Fall, one-third of employers have disqualified a candidate after checking out the candidate on social networking websites and finding stuff they didn’t like.
What do employers find so offensive? Evidence of Dionysian behavior: Drinking, drugs and “provocative or inappropriate photographs or information.” Heaven forbid men get drunk, women show off their physical assets or anyone engages in political discourse or talks publicly about their sex lives.
Many of those employers surveyed by CareerBuilder are more concerned about the appearance of candidates’ private lives and personal beliefs online than they are about job seekers’ professional skills. In fact, they would pass on a candidate who boasts about his or her binge drinking on Facebook before they’d exclude a candidate with poor communication skills, according to the survey.
Apparently, job seekers aren’t allowed to have fun anymore-at least they’re not allowed to display their fun or their views online.
Employer as Big Brother
By basing professional hiring decisions on candidates’ personal lives and beliefs, employers are effectively legislating people’s behavior. They’re subtly dictating what we can and can’t do, post or say on the Web. Consequently, they’re creating an environment online where people can’t express their true beliefs, state their unvarnished opinions, be themselves, and that runs contrary to the free, communal ethos of the Web. Employers need to stop judging candidates’ personal lives and beliefs and focus on professional criteria.
Employers also need to respect certain spheres, such as Facebook and MySpace profiles and social media sites, as personal spheres where people express themselves in words and images. We shouldn’t have to worry about a Puritanical employer disqualifying us from a job because of an opinion we express on Digg or because of a photo that a nursing mother posts on her Facebook profile.
What’s more, employers that discredit candidates whose Flickr photos show them getting soused while turning a blind eye to employees who get wasted at company-sponsored conferences and offsite meetings are maintaining a double standard for what they think is appropriate professional behavior.
You might contend that the information people share on the web is public, and therefore that it’s fair game for employers. I argue that this information may be public by virtue of its presence on the Web, but it’s still personal in nature. It’s not professional information. Therefore it should have no bearing on hiring decisions.
You might counter that employers need to get a sense of the candidate as a person to assess the candidate’s fit with the hiring organization. I maintain that an employer does not need to check out a candidate’s Facebook, MySpace or Flickr page for this purpose; they can do it during the job interview.
You might further argue that people create screen names to give themselves anonymity on the Web. But as we learned from Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey, these screen names don’t always protect our identity.
Finally, you might claim that we simply can’t control the way employers use the Web to screen candidates, so we might as well play it safe, especially right now, in this employer’s market. You’re right: We can’t control the way employers use the Web, but we can control how we use it.
We can reclaim the Web and Web 2.0 technologies as instruments that create community and promote free speech as opposed to instruments that help corporations (and governments) monitor people’s behavior.
Americans enjoy a right to privacy even though it’s not technically protected by the Constitution. Employers that exploit the free, open nature of the Web to snoop into and judge people’s personal lives infringe on everyone’s privacy. Their actions also verge on discrimination.