Comment: Take care of your online image, too

SOCIAL media is becoming more important in the world of work, so ensure that your profile won’t let you down, says Lorna Beveridge

Selfies posted on your Twitter account maybe fun  but photos on your social media could be viewed by potential employers who may be less amused. Picture: Contributed

Social media has revolutionised the way in which we interact with one another – and not just on a personal level. Take the global “selfie” craze, for example. In January this year, Humberside Police asked job applicants to submit a selfie along with their application for the role of deputy chief constable. The force said it was essential that candidates “embraced new technology”, and their recruitment campaign was intended to reflect this.

New technology is undoubtedly a valuable tool at each stage of the recruitment process, for companies and jobseekers alike. So how can we be using it to our advantage? And are there any risks?

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Whether you are tweeting vacancies, headhunting on LinkedIn or using Facebook to promote a brand, social media allows employers to reach out to more potential applicants than ever before. And it’s not just employers who can benefit in this way. LinkedIn, for example, allows individuals to create a professional profile, which can lead to new opportunities.

But although social media is a useful and cost-effective advertising tool, it’s important to remember that it is not used by everyone, and employers would be well advised to use it alongside more traditional methods so as to avoid discriminating against those who may be less likely to use social media.

Meanwhile, a survey last year by Higher Education Degree Datacheck found that 40 per cent of students and graduates had bumped up grades on their CVs. This may seem harmless on the face of it, but it can backfire. At the very least, it’s embarrassing to be caught. At the very worst, it can result in a criminal conviction.

Currently, there is no centralised system for checking qualifications, making the verification of CVs a huge administrative task. This could be set to change, however, as technology may hold the answer to checking whether candidates really do hold the qualifications they say they do.

Acclaim is a scheme that uses digital “badges” to verify applicants’ qualifications. Individuals are awarded badges on completion of a training course or project. These act as a digital version of a degree transcript – but they include a link back to the organisation which awarded the qualification, allowing for easy verification. Individuals will also be able to share their badges on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – and metadata in the badge gives employers information about the qualification itself. Could this be the future of CV verification? Watch this space.

Using social media as a screening tool is a widespread practice among HR departments, and it’s not unheard of for applicants to be rejected because of embarrassing photos they have posted or unflattering remarks they have made about former employers on social media.

However, employers should approach social media vetting with a degree of caution as they could discover more than they bargained for, raising the potential for a discrimination claim if the job applicant’s application is rejected. Photos can give you a whole host of information, such as a person’s age, race or religion. Or what if a woman has announced plans to start a family on Facebook?

If employers are privy to this information, it makes it much easier for an aggrieved unsuccessful candidate to claim that they weren’t offered the job because they have a particular protected characteristic. Remember – discrimination doesn’t need to be an overt practice for it to be unlawful; you should be alert to the risk of unconscious bias.

A way of mitigating the risk is to keep a good paper trail, documenting the reasons for recruitment or rejection – though this is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. There are data protection issues, too. Any information collected during the recruitment process must be handled fairly and lawfully.

As for employees, check your security settings – or simply don’t post anything you wouldn’t be comfortable with a prospective employer viewing. Remember, it’s not just drunken pictures you should think about; poor spelling and grammar can be equally off-putting for employers. Think carefully about how you are portraying yourself to the outside world.

Lorna Beveridge is a member of the employment team at Brodies LLP