Vetting by social media: why employers are now checking your online activity

A CV, smart suit and a good interview was once all it took to get a job but now a Facebook or Twitter page can scupper your chances. We talk to employers about how and why social media is now part of their selection process.

Before the explosion of global connectivity and social media, separating our professional and private personas was easy.

You could be a professional, competent manager at the office during the day and a party animal with your friends at night and, with a little care, none of your colleagues would be any the wiser.

In today’s constantly connected world, however, the two paths cross – and potential employers are on the lookout for any discrepancies or warning signs.

“In this day and age, we live in a glass house where all our lives are out in the open,” says Zishan Khan, director of Terra Casa Real Estate in Dubai.

For employers, the opportunities social media have presented for background checks simply did not exist in the past.

“Once the candidates have been screened, we always go and stalk them on social media,” says Khan.

A candidate’s Facebook posts, Twitter comments, Instagram pictures, YouTube uploads and even “likes” can determine whether he or she will be able to secure the job they have been pursuing.

“We look for red flags,” says Magdy El Zein, the managing director of Boyden Middle East and North Africa.

“The candidates we look for are senior executives, so if we find a lot of private information about the person or company posted on Facebook, that would be considered a red flag because this is creates a risk for the company and the individual.

“We also look at behaviour – for example we check Twitter, what comments are posted, what kind of engagements are made. in what style and if they are aggressive or not.”

El Zein said that social-media schedules of potential candidates is also monitored, as well as the actual content.

“For example, if we see a person normally posting personal comments on Facebook before noon every day, that shows that they are doing it on company time and therefore raises another red flag,” he says.

A hiring outlook for the year published last month by showed that nearly half of recruiters in the GCC expect employers to hire additional staff. Hiring activity, according to the report, will increase between now and September, creating a flurry of social-media searches to form personal insights on potential employees.

A 2015 survey by REACH Employment Services suggests the region is leading the way in the adoption of new recruitment practices.

Of more than 1,000 employers and job seekers polled, 95 per cent of employees used social-networking sites to look for jobs, and almost half of managers use social media during the recruitment process.

More than 85 per cent of surveyed job seekers considered the effect their digital footprint can have on employability as an important issue.

The research also revealed that 48 per cent of hiring managers check the social-media and digital footprints of candidates.

About a third of the managers (30 per cent) admitted to rejecting potential candidates because of questionable personal or professional traits they noticed online.

“Hiring managers glean a lot of information about you from social media, including details about the types of workplace cultures you thrive in, your values, personal skills and attributes, and the overall likelihood of you being successful in their organisation,” says Bethan Robbins, commercial director ofrecruitment agency Hays Gulf Region.

“Job seekers should review every aspect of their profiles, from their stated work experience to their profile picture, as well as the detail they share about their lives outside of work.

“It is critical that job seekers portray a consistent message across all platforms – one that is aligned to their career aspirations.”

Media-recruitment specialist Tom Watterson says that in one case, a candidate’s profile was sent to a company who checked her Facebook page and saw she was covered in tattoos and provocatively dressed. The company declined to interview the candidate as a result, he added.

In another example, the contents of a Facebook post ruined a candidate’s chances.

“We had one person come in for a position of sales manager,” says Khan. “When I met the candidate he seemed like a great person and he fit the profile we were looking for. However, when I Googled the man I saw some discriminatory remarks posted on his Facebook account. This gave me an insight of his personal beliefs which did not align with our company’s and I did not even give him a call back.”

Positive social-media profiles are relevant, updated, specific and complete, according to Suhail Masri, VP of Employer Solutions at

“Every vacancy has certain requirements and expectations from the applicants,” he says. “Certainly, not all job seekers are equal in terms of suitability.”

Social media can be an honest reflection of the candidate’s personality, interests, and passions, Masri said. However, navigating social media must be approached with caution.

“There could be many elements on a candidate’s Facebook account, for instance, that are not related to their qualification for the job but may sway the employer’s impression,” he says.

“It is important to maintain an objective lens when conducting a social-media search in order to avoid any discrimination or false impressions,” he says.