These 5 social media posts spell trouble for hiring managers

social media and magnifying glass“Before you go on a profile hunt, remember that what is seen can’t be unseen—and that phrase means more to HR folks than anybody else.” – How to Recruit & Hire in the Social Media Era

A recent Harris Poll found that we have all crossed a very dramatic divide: Most employers asked said they were now using social networking sites to research job candidates. An actual majority!

Sure, you can tell from surfing around if an applicant’s résumé is generally matching up to reality, and if that person’s online conduct is professional and self-aware. The problem is that you’re often going to find out too much, opening yourself up to a discrimination claim if you lean away from someone whose information gives you a bad vibe. You need to stay away from vibes as much as possible, and do your best to focus on words and images that tell you whether someone can do the job or not—period.

In her recent webinar, attorney and author Anniken Davenport revealed a list of traps that hiring managers can fall into during even the most casual peek at someone’s Facebook page or LinkedIn profile, or whatever info Google offers up through a seemingly innocent name search. How many of these posts would have made you toss a résumé into the trash without a second thought, possibly ensnaring you in a legal problem?

1. “We just got the word, #1 is going to be a boy! We’re on schedule to produce the entire starting lineup for the 2035 Lakers!”

YOUR REACTION: “Seems like she wants to have a big family … I know I should feel bad for even thinking about it, but how much maternity leave might we be looking at here when we’re hiring for the busiest stretch in our history?”

THE TRAP: You’re going to be mighty tempted to ask about this applicant’s plans to have more kids, or her child care arrangements. But that’s inviting the law to come down hard on you.

2. “Hi everyone! Walk with me on any of these upcoming dates to raise awareness of domestic abuse. A strong network of survivors has helped me; be a part of one.”

YOUR REACTION: “Hmmm, she seems to be speaking in the present tense … that’s almost certainly nothing that should give us pause, but I’m not sure if we can afford even a hint of possible drama with the way things have been going … ”

THE TRAP: Anniken reminded attendees that the EEOC views the fear of such “drama” as sexual stereotyping, and it could be considered discrimination.

3. “Giving a sigh of relief today for a positive outcome on ‘Me vs. Everflight Software’ … bummed that it all went to court, but justice prevails!”

YOUR REACTION: “Just what we need, someone who got into a huge spat with their old company. No thanks!”

THE TRAP: Rejecting an applicant out of concern that there will be another instance of litigation is a natural instinct—but if it’s the only reason for the rejection, you may wind up confirming a suspicion that you’re intent on blocking them out.

4. “It’s been a year and still no job in sight … anyone want to send me a rabbit’s foot?”

YOUR REACTION: “A year of looking and no job? I don’t know if this is the place to bring someone back after all that rust.”

THE TRAP: The EEOC, and some state and local laws, view keeping the unemployed—or those with poor credit histories—out of your selection process as discriminatory. For example, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia all ban discrimination based on employment status.

5. “Finally developing the awesome Popeye forearms they told me came along with the wheelchair. #SilverLining”

YOUR REACTION: “The office is totally ADA-compliant, but we’d still have to rethink a lot of the things we currently do in order to make this happen … ”

THE TRAP: This is a prime example of learning too much information too soon, leading to snap judgments. When you find out an applicant is disabled, you might suddenly see everything as an obstacle. The law will not agree.

Anniken advised attendees that the best time to run a social media search is after the interview—use it to confirm your impressions of someone’s abilities rather than going on a fishing expedition for reasons to throw a résumé away. Also keep an eye on who’s posting job openings, and where. Twitter is especially adept at seducing us with its ease of contact—you don’t want an assistant manager grabbing a smartphone on a whim and tweeting out lawsuit bait like “We need young, happy go-getters with high energy! Apply now!”  

If you want to avoid all these gray areas entirely, you can still use social media to snare great people. The more you bolster your presence on it organically, by sharing news and interactions that establish you as a superior place to work, the more you’ll be sought out by excellent prospects. A single award given to you publicly for outstanding practices will do more to build an awesome staff than a hundred surreptitious web searches that try to weed out the wrong folk.