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The value of social networks

This is for job hunters who have a social media presence -- and for job hunters who don't.

The latter group needs to start.

The former should fine-tune their online images.

According to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 56 percent of employers are using social networking sites to find and evaluate job candidates. And 20 percent plan to do so soon.

The attraction?

"Social networking websites allow an employer the opportunity to gather initial information about a job candidate before a single word has been exchanged," the report says.

SHRM, the world's largest association of hiring managers, found that 95 percent of job recruiters who use social networking sites look at LinkedIn to prospect for candidates.

Can the message be any clearer? Any job hunter, any worker who might someday consider changing jobs needs a LinkedIn profile.

Your profile should give a clear picture of your talents, your experience and your position. And it should include some recommendations from bosses, colleagues, clients and customers -- the kind of references that corporate policies sometimes prohibit them from sharing.

After LinkedIn, hirers aren't as avid users of other social networks, but they do check other sites.

Among hirers who use social media, the survey found that 58 percent hunt for candidates on Facebook, 42 percent check Twitter and 23 percent look at professional association or industry-specific networking sites.

Employers like the insight they get from social media. A top benefit is that they find workers who aren't looking for a job but may be a perfect fit for their needs.

Another plus for hirers is that trolling social networks is a cheap way to recruit, especially those "passive" candidates who aren't responding to job postings.

The survey said social network recruiting is most useful for midlevel management and nonmanagerial, salaried professionals.

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The National Employment Law Project recently urged employers to reconsider hiring policies that excluded any candidates with criminal records.

In a report headlined "65 Million Need Not Apply," the organization documented widespread use of criminal background checking to eliminate job candidates, as well as the existence of job ads that say no one with felony or misdemeanor convictions would be considered.

"Employers that adopt these and other blanket exclusions fail to take into account critical information, including the nature of an offense, the age of the offense or even its relationship to the job," the report said.

The Society for Human Resource Management responded that criminal background checks were an "appropriate and important tool to help employers make informed hiring decisions."

Clearly, it's in employers' best interests to provide safe work environments, physically and financially, for co-workers and customers. There are legitimate liability concerns. And quite rightly, someone with an embezzlement conviction isn't the best candidate for an accounting or cash register job.

But I regularly field thoughtful, pleading communications from job hunters who have done their time or who are years past youthful hijinks that put misdemeanor blots on their records.

The job hunters want to work. They need to work. But door after door is closed to them before they can make the case for themselves.

The human resource society said its research showed that criminal background checks were used on all job candidates by 73 percent of employers, while 19 percent used them only on selected candidates.

Employers face a tough balancing act, for sure. But the legal group said that rigid "no criminal record" policies too often trumped common sense and might even be illegal under the nation's civil rights laws.

Appropriate, not blanket, exclusions are urged.

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