Further Questions: Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

A lot of the interaction I get with blog readers nowadays has been on Twitter, and with all the upheaval (in other words, the terrible new owner) I’m exploring other options such as Mastodon. This leads me to this week’s question:

Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions? Do you Google applicants, or look through Twitter or LinkedIn, etc? Any hair-raising stories or do you think it’s not something for people to worry about?

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media sites have allowed us to, in a sense, share ourselves freely with the world. By making such information readily available to the public, you should expect it to be examined as part of the hiring process.

Social media technology has allowed all of us to share ourselves with others in ways not possible a few decades ago. There is no ethical dilemma I can see as the information was made available by the candidate for anyone to see. The burden is on the candidate to control their social media presence and content.

What you discover in a search could solidify your decision to interview or not interview a candidate. You never know what you will discover about a candidate.

A candidate for a high level position in a library I worked for submitted an application in which the candidate indicated current employment in a particular management position. When a routine look at that library’s website revealed the individual was not employed by that library, a red flag was raised. Further investigation, via a Google search, revealed a single reference noting this individual was employed in the top leadership role in a library in the recent past. That job was not included on the applicant’s application or resume. A second, and more serious, red flag was raised.

Because that candidate had all the proper credentials on paper, an interview was offered. Knowing about the previous, unnoted job going into the interview, the candidate was asked some questions in such a way the candidate realized we knew of the job. The candidate then admitted that as we knew about the short stint, six months, at that job, “this is what happened.” When the candidate’s references were called, it was revealed the candidate wasn’t totally candid.

The lesson learned here was, “yes, sometimes jobs just don’t work out.” Many have gone into a job only to leave after a short time, going on to success in another job. My advice to a candidate is don’t try to hide a previous job, hobby, activity, or belief in this age of Google and social media because it will likely be discovered and come out in an interview resulting in an awkward moment when you have to explain it on the fly. Interview situations like this do no end well for the candidate.

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The HR department at my college is very clear in instructing search committees not to look for job candidates’ social media presence. Obviously that doesn’t mean people don’t ignore the instructions and check anyway. I’ll admit that I don’t think I have ever checked on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media presence of a candidate. I’m just not that interested. Of those, a peek at Twitter might be the most tempting. It (for now) is the most open. People opt in to follow without any gatekeeping so anyone with an account knows they can be read or followed by anyone they don’t block. But really I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time when considering candidates.

I’d like to be able to say it’s not something people should be concerned about but I am not sure that’s true. Which is why it is probably a good idea to have a policy or practice in place of not checking social media for candidates. I don’t want to read their diary and I’m really not interested in what they had for dinner last night or where they went to party last weekend.

Anonymous: As a library director, I almost never checked somebody’s casual social media presence unless there was something really in my face. We all make mistakes when talking to friends and I never felt it was relevant. I would, from time to time, look at a Linked-In profile in case there was a detail that might be illustrative. It never, to my memory, disqualified anybody.

There was one time, however, that was outside of librarianship. I am on the Alumni Board of my Alma Mater. We had voted to give a “Young Alumni Citation” to  who we thought was a deserving recent grad. I hadn’t heard of this gentleman and I wasn’t on the committee for that award. So I did a quick Google Search to satisfy my curiosity. I was certain that I would read of great things that would be a credit to our college. That day there were headlines in the local paper that he had been arrested for defrauding the city he worked for. We quickly withdrew the award. At least he hadn’t been notified of the award yet.

Protip: Don’t steal from your employer.

Anonymous: I don’t think a person’s social media presence (unless it has some murder-y, rape-y, or blatantly hateful stuff to it) should matter or influence anyone’s hiring decision. This all looks good in writing, but who is to say that I wouldn’t look someone up on Linkedin or FB/Insta/Tweeter/TikTok/ETC.

I mean if one is posting to social media and their accounts are not private, I say it is totally acceptable.

At my first library job someone discovered that I was in a bunch of rock bands. I was not hiding it, nor had I left it behind; it just wasn’t something I wanted to bring up to my new colleagues. Some folks gave me grief about it.  There is nothing on social media that I am aware of that I care if people see. I think that to use social media (even LinkedIn) one must have their thesis statement, thought process, intention, whatever you want to call so that the way you are represented works for them. My kid is very sophisticated with the way they use social media. Nothing is put up without consideration and they are very aware of what they support or criticize. I was in college when FB became a thing and I watched people expose themselves to this faceless platform and share painful and embarrassing secrets to whomever they had “friended.” 

If there is something upsetting about the candidate then maybe it does matter. But maybe it doesn’t matter if there is a drunk photo of them at a college party from 9 years ago. 

Personally a candidates social media presence has never been an issue, even the (over) 40 student workers that I have hired in my tenure as a librarian. 

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Does a candidate’s social media presence ever influence your hiring decisions? 

Speaking as a Dean and as a college manager who abides by the college’s hiring guidelines, we do not include a social media search be conducted in the vetting process or during the committee process as part of the vetting or hiring decisions. AND – a social media presence absolutely does NOT and has not – for me as Dean or for me as an individual committee member – contributed to any final decisions.

Do you Google applicants, or look through Twitter or LinkedIn, etc? 

I do review the application and resume content closely (obviously)… AND if I have questions I can’t answer, I will do a more thorough web search to find answers if at all possible. Examples:

  • I visit any links on the applicant’s resume or application (ex. blog, websites, an organization’s website they may reference.)
  • I compare titles if they are unclear – by going to – if there is one – their current place of employment.
  • I try to – if there is a question in my mind and I require supervision for the position – see if anything is in the resume, etc. specifically says the person/their position supervises people and – if possible – how many. (If I can’t tell, and it is required, we will email to ask a possible candidate if and if so how many people they supervised (ex. signed timesheets.)
  • If a candidate’s email address does not indicate their name in any way, I will try to match the email addresses to make sure the content I am looking at is for the specific candidate. 
  • Although professional association activity is not required, it might be important for aspects of our position such as leadership experience, project management, training, etc. so I might look to see if a membership also includes activity.
  • Although publication is not required, I will read any publications based on citations or links on an applicant’s resume. 

If selection committee members wish to share information about an applicant with me or the committee, I typically ask them to wait until we are through with our first round of interviews. I also ask them to – if at possible – limit their information to content that will help us match a candidate to the job. 

Any hair-raising stories or do you think it’s not something for people to worry about?

Not for our hiring processes, no!  

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.us, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via old fashioned postal mail. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.


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