In the wake of employers going so far as to ask prospective employees to hand over their Facebook passwords, a practice that has been heavily frowned upon by Facebook itself, social media ‘screening’ continues to be a common practice amongst human resource professionals.

According to a CareerBuilder survey, as many as 37% of employers are checking out prospective employees on social media before they make a final decision.

What are employers looking for?

When venturing onto prospective employees profiles, they’re looking for one of five things. 65% responded that they want to see if the candidate presents himself/herself professionally, 51% said they want to see if the candidate is a good fit for the company culture, 51% want to learn more about the candidates qualifications, while 35% want to see if the candidate is well-rounded. Only 12% said that they use social media as a means of looking for reasons not to hire the candidate.

While only 37% may be engaging in the practice, that number could have easily increased, if it weren’t for the fact that 15% said that a sneak peak at a social media profile is prohibited by their companies. 11% also said that, while they don’t currently use ‘social media screening’, it’s something they intend to implement.

Comparing figures from surveys over the past few years, it would appear that the number of employers who are using social media to screen candidates is actually decreasing.

CareerBuilder points to a 2009 study the number of employers including social media in their online background checks stood at around 45%. CareerBuilder’s own 2010 survey put the number at 50%, with 12% saying that they planned to use social media to screen candidates.

Search Engine Journal points to a study conducted last year where 53% of employers said that they look to social media as a way of researching potential candidates.

In the 2011 survey, it was obvious that social media had a negative effect on employees chances. As many as one third of prospective employees had lied about their qualifications.

How social media screening hurts employees chances

Now while the number of employers checking out social media profiles might be on the decline, CareerBuilder’s recent survey shows that if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that it continues to hurt prospective employees chances at getting the job.

A third of hiring managers said that social media snooping led to the employee not getting the job. The reasons given ranged from sharing provocative or inappropriate photos (49%), sharing information about drinking or drug-use (45%), poor communication skills (35%), bad-mouthing a previous employer (33%), discriminatory remarks relating to race, gender or religion (28%), and lastly, lying about qualifications (22%).

While the practice has been known to hurt a candidate’s chances, it has also had the opposite effect, giving them the edge on their competition. 29% of hiring managers said that they found something that led to hiring the candidate,

The other side of the coin

So how does social media have a positive effect when it comes to the hiring process?

58% of the respondents said that it gave them a good feel for the candidates personality, 55% said the profiles conveyed a professional image, and 54% said that information they found supported the candidate’s professional qualifications. 51% said that the social media profiles displayed a well-rounded candidate, showing a wide range of interests, 49% cited great communication skills, 44% said it displayed the candidate’s creativity, while 34% said that other people’s online recommendations made a difference.

The survey is a reminder of the painfully obvious fact that content shared publicly, can easily be found by anyone, including a prospective employer you’re trying to impress.

While asking for a Facebook password certainly crosses a line, social media users should be conscious of what can be seen publicly and should have a firm understanding of privacy settings, particularly considering the fact that Facebook is the first place employers look.

65% of the respondents said they look to Facebook, 63% cited LinkedIn, while Twitter was on the radar of only 16% of hiring managers.

Speaking about social media screening as a practice, Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder said:

“Because social media is a dominant form of communication today, you can certainly learn a lot about a person by viewing their public, online personas. However, hiring managers and human resources departments have to make a careful, determined decision as to whether information found online is relevant to the candidates’ qualifications for the job.”

The CareerBuilder survey was conducted by Harris Interactive, questioning just over 2,300 hiring managers and HR professionals in February and March 2012.