“It’s no secret that employers do a background and social media screening on job applicants,” the HR Director of a UK clothing and footwear retailer told me at a conference. “The worst experience was when I simply googled a guy’s name and found a dozen articles popped up about how he was arrested and charged for stalking an A-list celebrity.”

In the United States, it is quite common for employers to use social media to screen job candidates before hiring them. A vast majority of employers use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and other social media to check on potential job candidates. In European countries, however, it is unlawful to scour the internet as a part of the hiring process. The EU data protection guidelines are much tighter, and require employers to have a valid professional reason to check job applicants’ social media accounts.

Analyzing an applicant’s social media profile and postings is legal in the EU, but the new guidelines will now become a law in many countries.

“People usually believe we do social media checks to find a reason to not hire someone. The truth is, we carry out social media screening to find a reason to hire someone,” says my friend Sofie, who works as a recruitment manager in a Prague-based tech company. “You can find out so much about a person just by looking at their feed.”

In the US, it’s commonplace for employers to read your public social media feeds and postings. Several companies like ApplicantPro and SocialInteligence offer “social media screening for business,” which can be carried out within minutes using machine learning.

Social Media Screening Could Land You in Legal Hot Water

The new EU guidelines require employers to notify job applicants before they check online accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. If job candidates don’t see the warning, the employer could be in breach of EU data protection rules.

Employers are also prohibited from compiling social media data as a part of the hiring process unless it is essential and relevant for a particular profile. The guidelines apply to employers across 28 countries.

“A friend of mine was disqualified for retweeting a National Martini Day tweet,” says an app developer based in Warsaw.

This might sound a little outrageous, but companies see drinking and drugs (both of which happen in private) as a red flag. Not many companies look at social drinking, which involves being friendly, social and requires interacting with others, as an appealing trait.

Job applicants should adjust their privacy settings if they want to hire potentially embarrassing stuff from potential employers. Evidence of job applicants’ sexism, homophobia, and racism are the kind of things potential employers are looking at when they are snooping through a job applicants’ social media feeds and postings. Employers are held liable if they see comments boasting of violence online and yet choose to ignore it and hire the applicant anyway.

It’s terrifying to know that the HR Director at any company can make a split-second hiring decision after reading about your drunken exploits when they were in college. Regardless, the new EU guidelines may require companies to change the way their recruit.

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