A CareerBuilder.com survey found that more than one in five employers use social media in the hiring process. Some of the information that employers look for in the candidates' Facebook or MySpace profiles are related to alcohol or drug use, inappropriate photos or contents, poor communication skills, bad mouthing about past employers or fellow employees, inaccurate qualifications, unprofessional screen names, notes showing link to criminal behavior etc (See New York Times blog). Not only at the time of hiring, but many companies also keep a tab on their employees' social behavior. There are firms like Social Intelligence Corp,Tandem Select etc who performs social media background checks for their corporate customers. Social media background check is not limited to US or other developed countries only. Even in India there are firms like Seth Associates which provide employee background check service including search in the candidate's social networks.
Laws in all jurisdictions allow companies to base their hiring decisions on information gathered from social media. In US the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the employer to notify the candidate if it takes any adverse decision (e.g. not hiring) based on background check information and to send a background check report to the candidate. The candidate can dispute the report in court. The situation creates genuine concern for the job seekers. Self-regulating social media behavior will take away all the fun the Millennial generation quickly learnt to have.
But looking from another angle, employer's social media activism gives the candidates additional channel and opportunity to market themselves. We are hearing about how internet firms are helping celebrities make over their 'online' images. These firms push more positive news items about their clients so that they come up at the top in Google search (relegating the negatives to the third/fourth pages which nobody views). Similarly, candidates seeking jobs (or friends or partners for that matter) can spruce up their social media profiles, blogs etc which show them in a positive way. This does not mean putting up a fake profile as employers hardly make hiring decisions based solely on information gathered from social media. Social media can be used to their advantage by both the candidates and employers - it's a win-win situation.