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If you really want the job, lock down your socials

An ill-advised Instagram video or tweet might be the difference between getting an interview and not. Don't give bosses an excuse not to hire you

Man reading social media Charles Deluvio/Unsplash
Think about what you post – and whether it can be seen by a potential employer

What information is fair game for evaluation of candidates when you’re hiring an employee? It’s a common question in legal and HR circles, particularly with regards to social media profiles.

Back in 2018, a survey for the US jobs site CareerBuilder found that 70 percent of employers regularly check candidates’ social media profiles – and 54 percent had rejected applicants based on what they found.

When you apply for a job, however, few companies will tell you that they’re looking at your social media. This can lull jobseekers into a false sense of security and has serious implications for candidates.

As a business owner and former chief HR officer, I don’t fall into the group that checks regularly, but I have rejected a candidate based on what became apparent during the hiring process – and make no apologies for doing so.

These days, it should be a given that hiring decisions must not be based on gender, race, ethnic origin, caste or religion. Aside from such discrimination being illegal in the UAE, research has shown time and again that the highest-performing organisations are those that work to achieve diversity across these characteristics.

Where the grey area starts is whether it’s fair game for an employer to make value judgments about a person’s social media posts – and whether the knowledge gained is “insight” or falls into the realm of discrimination. Whether it’s fair or not, it is happening and that is unlikely to change until we change the security settings on our accounts.

Let’s just have a look at the candidates’ Instagram …

Take the example of a vacancy for a junior lawyer. A hiring manager has to find five candidates for interview from a long list of 10. The manager finds a few videos on Instagram of one candidate enjoying themselves, being slightly wobbly and loud.

This raises two different perspectives:

  1. Someone from a culture where alcohol is taboo may make a values-based judgment on the content and reject the candidate’s CV. This is problematic in isolation, because it has no bearing on the individual’s capability to do the job. It is discrimination but, as it does not involve a protected characteristic, it is not illegal
  2. A fairer conclusion to reach is that the applicant lacks awareness, because that content is public and could be viewed by clients. Thus the personal and professional judgment of the candidate is brought into question. They are unlikely to make it to interview.

I know many job seekers would argue that you should give the candidate in the second scenario a chance, as there’s an easy lesson to be learned. But here’s where we have to get real. When you have to reduce 10 to five, and there are six equally qualified candidates, the one with the questionable social media content isn’t going to make the cut.

The point is not that the content exists, but that it wasn’t made private. If it had, the issue would never have arisen.

Give employers every reason to pick you

Hiring managers in the Middle East generally have a great choice of candidates and selection decisions can often come down to the finest margins. Being a successful job seeker is about giving an employer reasons to choose you. If you give them easy reasons not to, you’re making it easy to be rejected.

I always advise candidates to remove photos, as well as details of nationality, age, family status and so on, from CVs. These attributes have no bearing on a person’s ability to do a job, but discrimination continues to be a real problem in the region.

Sanitising your social media is an extension of this approach. It has been with us for close to two decades and we really should all get better at understanding how and when it works to our advantage. It will hardly ever be a reason you’re hired but could easily be the reason you’re not.

John Butterworth is the managing director of in Dubai