“Fit Factor” Checks via Social Media

I read an article on WebGuild recently that talked about the hiring practices of the town of Bozeman, Montana. The town has been requiring that applicants for town positions provide their passwords to social networking sites and email accounts.

Their application reads: “Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.”
The city form then offers three lines for applicants to list websites, their user names and log-in information and their passwords.

The city Attorney, Greg Sullivan was quoted as defending the policy: “We have positions ranging from fire and police, which require people of high integrity for those positions, all the way down to the lifeguards and the folks that work in city hall here. So we do those types of investigations to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the city.”

I guess the HR team in Bozeman is responsible for judging who has the highest moral character. Not sure exactly how to measure that.

This is an extreme example of a practice that has become common in the HR world. Across the country Human Resources professionals and hiring managers are jumping onto social media sites to judge applicants on how they look, how they live, what they say and who they associate with…

Be aware. We have seen severaI candidates rejected in the past year because the firm decided that they were “not a culture fit” due to their online personas. Not their background checks, not their reference checks, not their drug tests… just the way that they present themselves in social media.

I am far from an expert on employment law, but that just feels illegal.

“Fit” is a huge factor in determining future success with an employer, so in concept I would say that both sides are well served when the potential employer weighs “fit factors”. But in most cases I worry about who is making that decision and what criteria they are using.

Is it the HR Manager’s personal values that are being projected or is it the company’s culture that is being protected?
In any case, I would take down those Spring Break 2003 photos that your friends find so amusing if you are thinking of entering the job market.

And personally, if your potential employer asks for your gmail password because they want to read your conversations with friends and family, I would withdraw from the process (and consider calling the ACLU).

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