How I stopped worrying about job searches and learned to love social networks

How I stopped worrying about job searches and learned to love social networks

iStock_000004755197XSmallOver on FastCompany, there’s a blog post covering a report about employers’ checking out of candidates on Facebook, and the news ain’t lookin’ pretty from the headline: “If You’re Applying for a Job, Censor Your Facebook Page.” The crux of the study says that 45% of employers have rejected job candidates based on what they found on social networks. (Which also means, by the way, that 55% haven’t rejected candidates based on what they found. More than half.)

This is probably most unemployed people’s worst nightmares, especially given the scarcity of jobs within certain industries and overall economic climate. I can get denied because I had a couple of drinks with friends on Saturday night? Here’s the breakdown of what can evidently keep you from getting hired:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photos or info–53%
  • Drinking or drug use–44%
  • Bad-mouthing previous employee, colleague or client–35%
  • Poor communication skills–29%
  • Discriminatory comments–26%
  • Lied about qualifications–24%
  • Leaked confidential info from previous job–20%

As FC’s Kit Eaton points out, I can definitely understand a couple of those. Lying = not okay. Leaking = not okay. Discriminatory comments, while fairly grey here = probably not okay.

The bigger issue with studies like this are the potentially limiting effect that our social network activity is having on changing the culture around us. In a big section of the book I’m writing right now, Share This!, I talk about the huge potential for the overlap between different spheres of our lives to fundamentally change the expectations we have of one another (especially when it comes to gender, race, sexuality, class, etc.), and shift our culture towards values of trust, empathy and shared purpose. The portraits we are creating of ourselves online are fundamentally political and radical. With our participation on social networks, we’re saying, “This is what it’s like to be a person in these shoes.”

What’s emerging is a trend towards more authenticity as we become more transparent about different parts of our lives. It’s not a requirement (or even desirable) to reveal every last tidbit of ourselves, but more an opportunity to share what previously might not be acceptable in different parts of our lives. We belong to numerous social circles ƒ?" jobs, politics, neighborhoods, hobbies, sports, religions ƒ?" and now that everyone’s lives are overlapping, the sharing is happening with all of us at the same time.

Sure, there’s a line you have to draw with what you share– there are countless stories now about Facebook getting you fired or evicted, and many of them are within reason (i.e., you set fire to your apartment and you post pictures to your Wall… um, yeah, that’s going to go get you in trouble). As for the more mundane and average parts of our lives? I say the more we can share, the better. (And here are some thoughts about what to share for those just getting started.)

Employers that don’t value this kind of additional information about candidates are setting themselves up for failure in a world that’s becoming increasingly reliant on reputation and recommendations. For one, candidates that aren’t out there establishing their expertise and building their social capital with these tools are going to fall light years behind, skill-set-wise, those who are. Additionally, it’s a rare window into more of a candidate’s personality than what gets presented in an old-school style interview, and employers can see who might match and who might not.

If companies expect us to hide parts of ourselves from semi-public view, it could have a chilling effect on people who are using social networks and media to explore and present identities that are not culturally accepted, or at least roles that aren’t traditional. Could this mean that LGBT lawyers have to re-closet themselves to get hired by a power firm? Or that stay-at-home parents, mostly moms, have to gloss over the fact even more that they’ve been out of the workforce when trying to return? This is dangerous and potentially damaging to the positive, personal-is-political force in motion right now: This is who we are, and we’re here to stay.

In the end, companies are going to have to change the way that they view the information they find on social networks. Ten years ago, a Google search that turned up some TMI might be cause for alarm. But now, especially as younger generations are swimming in all kinds of online social networks, can a company freak out over “inappropriate info,” whatever that is?

Who, exactly, are they going to hire?