While online tools can make applying for a job easier—and, in many cases, has become the only way prospective employers will accept resumes—online background checks have not replaced direct conversations with references when it comes to vetting potential employees.
According to Stu Leatherdale, director of human resources at the City of Kelowna, while vetting job applicants in part via their social media postings does happen, it’s not as prevalent as some believe, especially not during the early stages of a job application.
Leatherdale said HR managers may Google perspective employees, but normally that takes place once the worker is going to be offered the job.
He said the issue of checking applicants’ social media postings can be a tricky one as privacy laws are at play, particularly before someone gets a job at a corporation.
After that, however, it’s a different story as a person who is seen to represent his or her employer in public can lose their job if they use private Internet postings such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to publicly criticize, embarrass or hurt their employers and their business.
And that hurt can be publicizing their own bad behaviour in public.
“It’s a new area (in HR) that has has really come to the fore over the last five or six years,” he said.
A recent high-profile Canadian case occurred in Ontario last year when a well-paid Ontario One electrical engineer repeated a rude and offensive popular (on the Internet) phrase on camera behind a female reporter who was reporting live to broadcast outside a soccer match in Toronto.
The reporter challenged the man, along with his friends, asking them why they would say something that offensive to a woman. The young men just laughed it off.
The engineer was identified and fired by Ontario One for his conduct, losing his six-figure job.
While he did get his job back later after the issue was taken to arbitration, his example should serve as a warning to workers in this day and age of wide-spread technological connectivity.
As Leatherdale pointed out, most people carry a camera with them at all times on their mobile smartphone and that embarrassing picture or video footage is only a few clicks away from being uploaded and going viral.
And it is not just at a large employer like the City of Kelowna—with around 950 employees—where workers have to be careful what they say and how they act in public and on the Internet. Smaller employers, like the District of Lake Country, are following suit.
Holly Flinkman, the district’s HR manager, said technology has changed how workforces are managed and how people get jobs.
She said hundreds of applications can flood in for an advertised job at the district, and in many forms—faxes, written, email. So the district is moving to an online-only application system it hopes to have in place this year.
Such a system—already in place in Kelowna—can help filter applications quickly, making it easier to identify applicants who need to be interviewed and those not qualified.
Flinkman said she is aware of companies that do social media checks as part of larger initial background checks on potential employees.
Like Leatherdale, she said it’s important applicants do not have embarrassing photos and posts floating around in cyberspace.
Moving forward, the city is looking at crafting what it calls an “appropriate use” policy during this coming year.
While Flinkman said she has not run across a problem during her three years with the district, Leatherdale said he has had to deal with the issue a few times, but it has never resulted in anyone ever losing their job.
“Sometimes, people just lose perspective,” he said.