Thursday, July 25, 2013

Protecting Your Social Self

A former coworker recently started a new company that aims to protect job seekers from themselves.  In short, the service will flag any questionable posts or photos from social media and allow the job seeker to delete them.  According to the founder, the service is aimed at helping people automate the process of managing their social self, especially since employers are relying on social media to learn more about prospective candidates.

While I don't doubt that there is a need for this service, it actually bothers me that this need exists.  Before facebook and social media, companies would bring in candidates to learn more about them as people.  As is so often mentioned by HR departments, especially at super-competitive employers like Google, they want to get a better idea of each candidate as a whole person and not just an employee.  In current times, however, our social profiles are yet one more filter that we are passed through before we can even speak to a person at a company.

This begs the question of what is really considered inappropriate.  I have a picture in my facebook albums that shows me drinking beer straight from a pitcher.  Would this banish me from some HR screening process?  Where is the line between "he's just having fun" and "he's not at all right for our company."  Further, who gets to make that decision?  My view of inappropriate behavior might be wildly different from someone else's.  Finally, what about context?  The picture of me drinking from a pitcher was posed.  It was also taken nine years ago.  I understand the concept of nothing dying on the internet, but when careers and livelihood is at stake, snap judgements seem like a flawed way to go through the process.

With the economy still on the path to recovery and with many employers trying to cut costs at every corner, hiring decisions are not made lightly.  Companies receive an overwhelming number of applications for each position, and no one can deny the need for a system to quickly thin the herd.  Unfortunately for job seekers, companies are using our personalities and our long-forgotten past to do just that.  Consider this just one more hoop to jump through.

While the founder of this company is a former coworker, in no way was I asked to promote his service or mention it.  The announcement for his company was only a starting point, as it got me thinking about the ridiculous process that is job-hunting.  Regardless of my thoughts on the process, I wish him the best of luck in his endeavor.