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Why Employers Must Screen Candidates for Skeletons in their Social Media Closet

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The sacking of the Gay Times editor Josh Rivers’ vividly highlights the danger of old social media posts coming back to haunt you years after you have posted them. Mr Rivers was previously the magazine’s marketing manager, a less high-profile position but still an important and senior role. He told marketing magazine the drum that he was chosen as editor because of his “keen eye for detail, well-honed leadership skills and the ability to execute”.

His keen eye for detail obviously did not extend to his own social media accounts. This case demonstrates that even senior employees aren’t immune to the risks associated with social media use and should act as a warning to others to carefully consider how they present themselves professionally online.

It also raises some serious questions about the recruitment process involved in Mr Rivers’ appointment. 
Why did no-one involved in the recruitment process check his social media? The offensive posts in question were made over a period of five years from 2010-15, and were easily accessible to anyone who wanted to scroll back for a few pages. It should be common practice for recruiters and potential employers to use social media to screen candidates to see if they will be a good fit for the company – especially in such high-profile public role.

If this case does anything, it should make people think twice about they conduct themselves on social media now, especially if they are working in a high-profile job. It should also make recruiters and employers realise that vetting candidates should extend to social media. A simple background search isn’t always sufficient when employing staff. It is important to take the time to check each social media account that belongs to the candidate to ensure the message they put across is in line with your organisation's values.

Taking a look at the type of content being shared or liked by the candidate is worthwhile. This could bring to your attention any risks or red flags – for example, if they engage with or share inappropriate or extreme content. Social media can be an extremely effective tool for building your personal brand and furthering your career if used correctly. Inappropriate use of social media such as bad language, discriminatory remarks and demonstrations of reckless behaviour has resulted in candidates being turned down for a job and, in this case, fired.

Even after securing a role within a company, it is still important to keep in mind that your current or prospective employer could be potentially reading. Although social media can significantly damage your reputation and career, as this example shows, it can also be beneficial for your career if used correctly.
The need to remove inappropriate content is obvious, but having a clean and private profile doesn’t demonstrate who you are a person. It is still important to show your personality in your content, but you should use your common sense and not use any offensive or language or share controversial views.

Slating people, especially employers, on social media is a big no-go – stick to the motto that if you don’t have anything nice to say then say nothing at all. Ensure all your online profiles are accurate and up to date, an employer will use your background information such as previous employers and education.

Social media is a simple and effective way to build your network and place yourself in your industry’s community. Those who regularly engage with their industry via social media are often headhunted for jobs they haven’t even applied for, therefore it’s beneficial to follow and engage with thought leaders and brands you’d love to work for.

Social media is an opportunity for people to learn more about you and what makes you unique, so don’t be afraid to share your passions and discuss subjects you’re interested in. Just ensure you’re conducting yourself in a professional way when you do this.

The lesson to take from the dismissal of Josh Rivers is that once something is posted online it is available for the world to see, including your employer and potential future employers. It is therefore important to carefully consider the use of social media for both employers and employees.

Originally published in the Western Mail (Business in Wales) on 22nd November.

x Yolk Recruitment | UK Recruitment | Hiring Manager | Business Owner

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