The future of job applicant screening: your childhood

It’s a widely known and accepted practice that recruiters and HR managers screen the social media accounts and online presence of prospective employees. A 2011 report suggests that this number is over 90%.

Heretofore, if you’re a millennial this means regularly checking your social media feeds for party pictures and equally compromising photos, which taken out of context might provide a narrative you’d rather not have your future employer reading. But maybe that is so 2011.

Facebook started just over 10 years ago, but did not morph into its current incarnation until a few years later. Conservatively, in 4–8 years the first generation of children whose lives have been documented since birth (or even ultrasound) online will enter college and subsequently, the workplace. The implications of this much data being available are profound, and if we take it but one small step further, composite profiling, they become all the more sobering.

It would be impractical for future employers to sift through hundreds of photographs (or slides in my case) from a potential applicant’s childhood. Until very recently, it would also be an unthinkable invasion of privacy. But now there are companies who specialize in social media background checks. Having a dedicated team piece together a profile on a serious applicant may not be easy, but it is feasible, and to a small extent already being done.

So consider the possibility of company X contracting a child psychologist to examine a photo timeline of childhood experiences, comments and captions by parents and friends, and other readily-available data from social media to identify key character traits, likely habits, propensity towards addiction or other behavioral predictions. Dystopian fiction? Psychographic scoring has been around for decades. Predicting what you will buy, listen to, watch and care about is a thriving industry.

Speciality companies retrieve data about your online searches, download habits, and in which internet communities you are most active. In all fairness, using this information in prescreening applicants is coming under scrutiny by some the field of HR, who, in addition to ethical objections, fear lawsuits and misuse. Nonetheless, it is happening.

I don’t begrudge any parent who shares pictures of their kids on social media. I’m not criticizing their choices, nor am I trying to stir paranoia or suggest a Huxleyan future. What I am suggesting is this: if in 1996 you were to describe the hiring practices of companies in 2016 to most people, it would seem fantastical. To believe that companies, hiring managers and recruiters will not utilize the most current, effective (and perhaps invasive) technology at their disposal to perform their job in the future is simply naive.

What is to be done? I think it comes down to personal choice and responsible parenting. I’ve come to understand that one of my primary duties as a father is to protect and preserve my children’s options, even from themselves if necessary. My wife and I made the decision before our children were born that they would have no internet footprint until they were old enough to fully grasp the repercussions. While that is drastic to some and at times vexing to our family and friends, it is our choice. Again, I’m not saying don’t post pics of your kids. I’m saying, like sending a work email, taking a pause to consider the long-term effects of a post is a more skillful way to go about it.

Should childhood be off limits to future employers? Time and legislation will tell. Should we have this debate before it becomes a tangible reality? It’s my opinion that we must.