Nowadays, the documents you submit to your potential employer (cover letter, résumé, references) will not be the only he or she looks at. In fact, more than half of employers are probably going to also check out your accounts on social networks.
The data comes from the UK business psychology firm OPP, which is presenting its findings this week at the British Psychological Society (BPS) conference on occupational psychology. One of the papers by the business psychologists covers a 2011 study into the use of social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
56 percent of employers said that they were likely to check out the social media presence of potential employees (although 27 percent of those surveyed said they would be uncomfortable with the same being done to them). 37 percent of people say they change their persona online – so looking at their online presence may be misleading anyway. On the other hand, a recent study said your Facebook personality is genuine, so it may not be that misrepresentative after all.
So what advice does the OPP have for jobseekers? It's all common sense: lock down your Facebook profile, and behave on LinkedIn as you would at a professional networking event. It also wouldn't hurt to check your Facebook privacy settings.
Meanwhile, employers need to tread carefully to avoid breaking the law, avoiding racist, sexist or anti-religious biases that might surface. On the other hand, if they do fire someone who misuses social media, there could be accusations of discrimination or unfair dismissal, not to mention potential damage to an organisation's reputation.
When I worked at RIM last year, I got in hot water for this article: RIM announces Facebook app for BlackBerry PlayBook. Although I had a disclaimer, it included my opinion, which made RIM look good and Facebook look bad. I've said it before and I'll say it again: in today's day and age, companies need a clearly stated policy for social networks.