Recruiters Using Facebook… as a Reference Check

“Facebook is only for my personal life. I use LinkedIn for career stuff.”

– Mr. Jo B. Seeker

Too bad, Mr. Seeker… because whether or not YOU are using Facebook to assist your job search, up to 85% of recruiters now use Facebook during their vetting process – and they’re using it to eliminate you from consideration.

“But I have all my privacy settings engaged. They can’t see anything.”

– Ms. Candi Date

Sorry, Candi… most do not set up their privacy settings – at all, or correctly – and with just a couple clicks through the friends in your network I can learn enough to decide whether you are worthy of consideration as a candidate, or not.

Recruiters are not crazy. They’re going to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make sure you’re worthy of their time, have earned a call-back, and would be a good fit at their company.

Specifically, they’re using Facebook – privacy settings engaged or not – as a reference check.

Not in the way we traditionally think of reference checks, of course. In the “old days” you were allowed to place “references available upon request” on your resume, as if it represented a proud statement of confidence. Only after you had survived the first interview were you asked for your hand picked references, which every recruiter knew would offer you a glowing review.

With Facebook, recruiters see the “real” you – not the “interview” you. They also see your “real” family, friends, pets, old sweethearts, ex-wives… everything.

The see how you handle conflict and confrontation. They are witness to your conversational style and ability to communicate. They see what you’re passionate about, and the areas in your life where you may be a bit passive. They see if you are ready for the next stage in your career development, or still have pictures of the intoxicated you with your shirt off in 23 degree weather with the ‘A’ from “WILDCATS” painted on your chest during a football game (not exactly their idea of a “team player”).

You want them to see determination. More likely, they see drama. You want to present professionalism. Chances are much greater they’ll see posturing. You would choose to present ambition, instead they’ll see “WTF! Is this day EVER going to end? Longest Day Ever. FML!” – and realize that was written during your time with your last employer.

Most important… if they look hard enough at what is a typical Facebook account they will find reasons to eliminate you. And no matter how many applications you submit, you will not get an interview.

Before you submit even one more application – you MUST go through your Facebook account and remove all postings, pictures and comments that do not present the “interview” you to a potential employer. You’ll be eliminating one potential reason that a recruiter may be using – to eliminate you.

For more on the Facebook TMI topic, see “Top 10 WTF TMI Mistakes: Blowing the Second First Impression“.

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  • Math

    Its funny because most people I know have their profile locked up. You don’t need to be a genius to understand that a recruiter will probably google you…

  • CM

    I think it is a little more complicated than “They see if you are ready for the next stage in your career development, or still have pictures of the intoxicated you with your shirt off in 23 degree weather with the ‘A’ from “WILDCATS” painted on your chest during a football game (not exactly their idea of a “team player”).”

    I think at some companies this would be a reasonable cultural fit and could be seen as a reason to hire instead of a reason to take a pass on a candidate. You are making a huge assumption that everyone shares your perception of an ideal candidate.

    • CM… point well taken. Of course, the “shirt off” example was random; meant to create a contrasting image to that of the professional guy who walked into the interview impeccably groomed — rather than serve as an absolute statement.

  • Brad

    It’s nice that recruiters have time to hack into Facebook profiles. Sounds like to completely clean it up, you’d have to remove any pictures that might reveal your race, any pictures of the church picnic (what if the recruiter thinks all church-goers are intolerant bigots?), and just put one photo of you in a suit. You have no passions, no opinions, no hobbies….and are the perfect corporate automaton.

    • Did not mean to imply that recruiters are hackers, or capable of hacking. The fact is that very few job seekers have set their privacy settings well, or at all.

      And we sure hope that passions, and even hobbies, would help a job seeker set themselves apart from their competition — create a “human” portrayal that may be a perfect fit for a certain workplace culture.

      Perhaps the key is to have a “neutral” online presence that matches the expectations and perceptions of your industry — and the recruiter?

      • Steve


        I understand
        the message here, unfortunately this article does not cover hypocrisy, because
        we all know if we were able to look into the hiring managers life profile, most
        would mirror what they are screening out.
        Now I better go remove this post from my profile before someone reads it…
        Great information, Thanks!

  • Scott J.

    i am not old. i work in the technology industry. i don’t have a facebook account nor do i intend to set one up.

    i realize there are like 500 million facebook users, but there are plenty of people NOT on facebook. how do recruiters perceive that?

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  • DF

    This kind of scrutiny by recruiters is going to get companies into trouble if, as Brad points out, a case can be made that they were discriminated against because of their church picnics, their politics, their race or other items not relevant to the job.

    My problem with the perspective presented is that an inexperienced recruiter or hiring manager assumes they now have better information about their candidate than before they looked at the Facebook profile. Facebook does not allow you to actually get to know the person in ways relevant to the job — not really. It deceives recruiters into thinking they know things that matter, but that’s a mistake. Recruiters need to tread carefully or when the market heats up again for talent, they’ll be without anyone to hire — and employers will face an increasing number of lawsuits.
    Here’s a WSJ article from last month:

  • A Recruiter

    As a recruiter, I can say that I do NOT use FB to check out candidates. 

    However, I can also say that many, many other recruiters do. And I don’t blame them for it. If your company hires someone who doesn’t work out, they’re out tens of thousands of dollars. Which reflects poorly on you and your performance. Of course you’re going to use the tools at your disposal. And if you’re recruiting for a public position – anything funded with taxpayer dollars – you want to know there’s nothing out there that’s easy for someone to find that’s going to make your organization look bad via your new hire. If the recruiter can find it, then someone who is looking to do business with or invest with or work with your company can find it. 

    If you’re comfortable with your privacy setting, then nothing to worry about. If you haven’t checked them in a while, use this as a reason to check and see what they’re set to. (FB tends to change them every 6 months or so – with the idea of being more and more public. So they can get more advertisers who want your juicy personal data. If you’re going to be upset with anything, be upset about that!)I don’t find this advice to be all that different from advice that says, “if you’re looking for a job, get rid of the cheesy ringback tone, make sure your voicemail sounds professional, don’t use an inappropriate email address.”  You don’t HAVE to do any of those things. You don’t HAVE to have a innocuous FB page. But you should be aware of the pros and cons of whatever you choose to do.

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