A student in my new media course recently asked, “Can employers refuse to hire me because my Klout score is too low? Isn’t that discrimination?”
Yes, they can, and yes, it’s discrimination, but not illegal discrimination. Some well-known and accomplished people have lost out on jobs because of their Klout score, leading some to delete their profile on Klout.
The important fact to realize is that employers can and do discriminate all the time. I might choose not to hire you because you have a bold tie, a short skirt, a bad perm, or a bad attitude. I might even toss your resume into the trash because of a typo—before I ever meet you in person.
Screening interviews discriminate against the unpolished, the uninformed, and the unfashionable. Failure to send a thank-you note can result in your being regarded as ill-mannered.
The important question is whether the characteristic on which I base my decision is subject to legal protection. Specifically, I cannot discriminate against you based on age, race, national origin, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or because you have certain genetic markers associated with disease. (Gattaca, anyone?) These characteristics are given special legal protection pursuant to the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
Note that the law doesn’t mention anything about “seemingly arbitrary scores purporting to measure an applicant’s online influence.” That means there’s nothing wrong with “discriminating” based on your influence score as measured by Klout, Kred, PeerIndex or any similar site. In fact, it might make sense for some jobs: If your personal Klout score is lower than the average person’s, you might not be sufficiently engaged with social media to be a community manager, for instance.
There is a real temptation for hiring managers and HR people looking to recruit social media managers to lean heavily on Klout scores. A Klout score is a (seemingly) objective metric, set by a third party, and is at least tangentially related to the job qualifications. The difficulty is that someone who understands Klout’s limitations probably wouldn’t need to hire social media help, so you’re in the awkward position of educating a prospective employer about social scoring without being defensive.
Bear in mind that “Klout discrimination” is not illegal, although it is real. The only instance in which a Klout score might arguably result in illegal discrimination is if the employer fails to hire you after seeing that you are influential in a topic that relates to a protected class.
For instance, say I’m interviewing for a social media marketing position when the prospective employer says any applicant hired will need to have a Klout score of at least 50. She brings up my profile on Klout, which shows that score is a respectable 62.
I see her eyes linger over my top three topics: gay marriage, Democrats, and health care reform. Her demeanor noticeably changes, and the interview comes to an abrupt end a few minutes later. After sending a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note, I receive a cursory email informing me that the position has been filled. The successful applicant had a Klout score of 50.
Might I have a case for unlawful discrimination now? Maybe. Proving intent to discriminate is always a difficult proposition, but given the fact that my Klout score was within the acceptable range, and I saw the interviewer’s negative reaction to my topics, I’m in a better position than someone else who wasn’t present when the employer reviewed her Klout profile. Most of the time, however, you won’t see the social media background check that prospective employers run on candidates.
A note to employers: Don’t rely too heavily on any one metric when hiring someone. Years of experience and demonstrated success in the industry should mean more than a relatively new online scoring algorithm.
In addition, don’t dig too deeply into a candidate’s topics of influence. You can’t “unsee” something like an affiliation with a particular political party or cause, and even if you weren’t actually discriminating based on this affiliation, it might look as though you did, which can result in liability for your company.
Job seekers: Tend to your online brand and your social scores (but don’t obsess), and be aware that interviewers will discriminate based on a number of factors. You might never know which, so make an effort to keep the interview focused on your professional accomplishments, rather than your personal opinions.
In sum, Klout discrimination happens, but there’s no law against it.
Kerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, teaches New Media Marketing in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University in Winter Park Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @KerryGorgone
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Goldfish)