Do Employers & Colleges Look At Social Media Profiles?

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There are many lighthearted, convenient, and fun aspects about sharing content on social media platforms, and as the relatively new (and often coveted) moniker of “Social Influencer” suggests, the thoughts, images, and information we share on social channels can significantly impact others. Unfortunately, in the case of college admissions officers and prospective (or even current) employers, that effect isn’t always positive.

Nearly 60% of Employers Who Use Social Media Have Disqualified Candidates Based on Their Findings

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers and HR professionals in the US, 70% of employers check social media during the hiring process. Of those who do mine social media channels, a solid majority 57% — said that they have decided not to hire a candidate based on their findings. The most common reasons given for disqualifying applicants were:

  1. Posting provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or information (40%)
  2. Posts that show drinking or drug use (36%)
  3. Discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc. (31%)
  4. An indication of criminal behavior (30%)
  5. Lying about qualifications (27%)
  6. Poor communication skills (27%)
  7. Speaking negatively about a prior company or fellow employee (25%)
  8. Unprofessional screen name (22%)
  9. Sharing confidential information from previous employers (20%)
  10. Lying about an absence (16%)
  11. Posting too frequently (12%)

Even if you’re not a social media butterfly, that doesn’t mean you’re off the radar: 66% of employers said they use search engines to find out more about applicants. And going dark won’t necessarily save you from judgment either: 47% of employers say that they are less likely to call a candidate for an interview if they can’t find them online. The reasons? Just under 30% said it’s because they want to be able to collect additional information before meeting with a candidate, and 20% said they expect applicants to have some sort of online presence.

Employers Also Check Current Employees’ Social Media

According to the CareerBuilder survey, those who have already secured a position with an employer could still face scrutiny — and fallout — from their social shares:

  • 48% of employers surveyed said they monitor the social media profiles of current employees — and 10% do it on a daily basis.
  • 34% of employers have reprimanded or fired employees based on content found online.

70% of Colleges and High School Students Agree That Social Profiles Are ‘Fair Game’ During the Admissions Process

Recent Kaplan Test Prep surveys show that US college admissions officers and high school students are on the same page when it comes to social media profiles: 68% of colleges and 70% of students said that social posts are “fair game” when evaluating applicants for admission.

Even so, this year revealed a dip in the number of admissions officers using social media to qualify prospective students: Only 29% said they follow this practice (down from 35% in 2017 and the 40% peak in 2015).

Still, as Kaplan cautions, “lest applicants think that what they post online can’t be held against them once they are already accepted, they should think again.” The 2018 admissions officer survey found that nearly 10% of colleges have rescinded an admissions offer to an incoming student because of something discovered on social media. Last year, 10 incoming Harvard University freshman lost their offers because of content shared in a private Facebook group an incident that should serve as a cautionary tale to all students.

But the News Isn’t Entirely Negative

As we said in the intro, social media can have a decidedly positive influence on those we connect with. It’s in these moments that we can see the benefits of taking a forward-looking approach to the content we share and the impact it could have within and outside of the confines of our posts and the circles of friends we regularly interact with.

Those who keep a professional persona in mind when posting can reap the rewards with prospective employers. The CareerBuilder survey revealed that social research can also move the dial in a positive direction for candidates. Some employers said they have been prompted to hire job applicants based on the following discoveries:

  1. Background information that supported job qualifications (37%)
  2. Displays of creativity (34%)
  3. Professional image (33%)
  4. Wide range of interests, reflecting a well-rounded person (31%)
  5. An impression that the candidate’s personality would be a good fit for company culture (31%)
  6. Great communications skills (28%)
  7. Awards and accolades (26%)
  8. Great references (23%)
  9. Interaction with the hiring organization’s social media accounts (22%)
  10. Compelling content (e.g., videos) posted by candidate (21%)
  11. Large number of followers/subscribers (18%)

Bottom Line: Keep Your Eye on the Prize

The simple reality with social sharing is that putting certain pieces of content out there for the world to see can come back to haunt you — and not simply from a cybersecurity perspective. It’s something we should all be mindful of — and a message that parents, teachers, and caregivers should be passing on to younger social users, particularly those mistakenly lulled into believing that “disappearing” content on platforms like Snapchat can’t be captured and publicized.

Before you click to share, remind yourself: Any post on any social app can live for eternity and be shared with anyone — regardless of privacy settings and regardless of whether the post was deleted. Screen captures and copy/paste functions can give items a life beyond the limits you think you’ve set. If you wouldn’t broadcast it in a crowded theater full of friends and foes alike, it’s probably best kept off of social media.


You can find additional advice about social media safety on our blog.