Employers Care About Your Facebook Page Way Less Than You Do

The droning chorus of warnings about how prospective employers check your Facebook page so don't put up any pictures of you taking shots or holding up a convenience store and would you please unlike MaggieMoo's, it's embarrassing has grown particularly loud over the past few days.

A new study on employment background checks suggests the furor might be over nothing.

The hubbub kicked into turbo-gear last Friday, when Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan posted a statement on the website reading:

"In recent months, we've seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people's Facebook profiles or private information…The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidents of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords."

Senators immediately jumped on the news, tripping over themselves to propose legislation that would forbid employers from requesting access to employees' Facebook accounts, and calling for a federal probe into the legality of the practice.

Obviously not bad ideas—let's go ahead and make that first one a law already—but were the "reported instances" of password demandings Egan mentioned as widespread as the frenzy would indicate?

Probably not.

For one thing, they were pretty isolated; all took place at interviews for spots in government departments, like local law enforcement agencies.

Now, MSNBC's Life Inc. blog has analyzed data taken from a recent study by EmployeeScreenIQ, a company that conducts annual surveys of U.S.-based employers' background check techniques, and found that the majority of employers report they never use social media in their vetting process at all.

Just under half of the 655 respondents (48 percent) admitted they had checked social networking websites in the past. Only 9 percent of respondents said they do it routinely.

The report speculated that one reason the practice of Facebook profile-trawling is not more widespread is that those hiring managers who do perform web research on potential employees put themselves at risk of running afoul of the law: there's a good chance they might inadvertently uncover information about a candidate's age, race, or religion.

The Life Inc. piece also includes this great line about the method behind the madness of prospective employers' web search techniques. (Turns out it's almost entirely madness.)

Of those hiring managers using the Web to screen candidates, [EmployeeScreenIQ President Jason Morris] said, they're mainly just Googling applicants. "They don't really even know what they're looking for," he added, "they're just doing it."

Prospective employers Googling aimlessly: they're just like us.

[image via AP]