Social media as a job reference?

We’ve all read stories about employers looking for online behaviors of prospective employees before hiring them. Drunken pictures of yourself on MySpace don’t often impress. A recent MSNBC article pointed out that hiring managers are taking things a step further by contacting people with social media connections to interviewees and treating them as personal references.

Is this a good idea for either side?

I may be weird, but I treat different social networks differently. On Facebook, I’ll accept just about anybody. I’m a little more discriminating on LinkedIn, espeicially after I reached 50+ connections. For Twitter, I go back and forth a bit between large following lists and small ones.

As such, if I were in the market for a job I honestly wouldn’t mind if somebody asked a LinkedIn connection about me. I don’t think they’d get much out of a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower, though. I’m not exactly a wild and crazy guy, though, so I don’t think anybody could uncover much embarassing material on me unless someone who knew me in high school were willing to (or even remembered) out my TP’ing escapades.

On the flip side, what would a potential employer possibly hope to uncover?  I suppose they are trying to find an unbiased endorseent for you, but using social media to do it seems a bit like cyberstalking.  Most of the time, you couldn’t expect to find much about someone by interrogating someone’s Facebook list, could you?  This tecnhique is more active than simply Googling someone’s name looking for criminal records or lewd behavior.  It seems wrong to pry this much and wouldn’t do any good anyway.

Has anyone else experienced this?  Does it seem as bad and as unproductive an idea as I’m thinking it is?

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