Many employers see social networks such as Facebook and Bebo as the future of recruitment. But they may need to tread warily, because most workers say they would be incensed to find their boss probing around in their personal online life.
A study by UK recruitment firm Manpower has found nearly half of workers would feel outraged if they discovered an employer had used social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo or Friends Reunited to look up information about them.
And more than half – 56 per cent – said they would consider such actions unethical.
With more and more workers and managers using social networks on a daily basis, careers experts and recruiters have for some time now been warning workers to be aware of their "NetRep", or internet reputation.
Posting information that might at the time seem harmless or a laugh can come back to haunt you when looking for a job, they argue.
Even worse, mouthing off about current or previous employers can land workers in legal hot-water as well as out in the cold in recruitment terms.
In March a poll of 500 employers by recruitment agency Poolia found two thirds admitted regularly carrying out internet searches, including checking out social networking sites.
At the same time an even larger poll of 2,000 workers and 600 employers by social networking site Viadeo reported one in five organisations doing the same thing and that, alarmingly, a quarter of these had rejected applicants as a result.
In the U.S, a poll last October by recruitment website CareerBuilder.com found that a quarter of hiring managers had used Google or other internet search engines to find out more about potential employees.
And one in 10 said they had used social networking sites as part of their candidate screening process.
The latest Manpower survey has illustrated the growing power of such sites.
A significant number of people are now using social networking sites for work-related tasks, with nearly a fifth of workers using the sites to research potential employers, a tenth for networking and generating new business and 17 per cent for other work reasons.
Jason Greaves, director of commercial staffing at Manpower UK, said: "The world of work is changing and the explosive growth of social networking sites provides a new way for people to communicate with each other.
"Although the primary use of these sites seems to be for personal reasons, employers and employees alike are now using the sites for work purposes, which can save both time and money," he added.
Although nearly a third of workers said they were not worried that their personal information could be accessed by potential employers, others were more concerned.
Four out of 10 of those surveyed had already limited their personal information online because of concerns that employers would be able to access information about them.
Nearly two thirds said they would not be happy to be interviewed online or by other virtual means, though this was likely to become more acceptable in the future.
When asked to predict the world of work in 10 years' time, nearly nine out of 10 thought that technology would play an even bigger role in how people worked, with two thirds saying they thought more job interviews would be conducted over the internet.
More than three quarters thought people would increasingly limit their personal information available on the net because of concerns that companies would be able to access it.
"It's good to see that people are not only embracing new technology in the workplace but that they recognise that technology will play a bigger role in their career prospecting and development in the future," said Greaves.
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