Thursday, April 4, 2013

Social Media. Should I? Shouldn't I?

Pros and Cons of using Social Media in Employment Related Decisions

This comes up a lot, either as a direct question, or just in our unvoiced thoughts in relation to recruiting, conducting a background check on an applicant, or even checking out an existing employee.

There are advantages to each, but there are also dangers. So, let’s look at this more closely, and you decide!

Pros: Reaching a wider audience. Many companies, large and small, reach out to applicants via their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. At the very least, they’re driving applicants to their websites’ employment pages. Visitors to the Facebook page of a particular company may not be actively looking for a job, but after seeing what the company offers, may investigate further and then apply. These are people that might not have been scanning the employment ads and online career sites. Sometimes, the best hires are employees who were not actually looking!

Cons: This might be the other side of the "wide audience" argument. Studies have shown that Facebook and LinkedIn subscribers may not reflect the US-job applicant pool; indicating that minorities may be underrepresented on such sites. So, using other, more traditional methods of recruiting (newspaper ads, job boards, magazines, professional publications and job fairs) is still important.

Business owners, managers and supervisors might misinterpret an applicant's ability to separate home and business conduct. You could miss out on hiring a valuable employee due to misunderstanding current culture in younger people or established traditions and behaviors among older individuals, or people of other cultures. You have to be very careful how you interpret information you find. 

Background Screening
Pros: This is a tricky one. Advantages are possible. Certainly, if there is information in an applicant’s public profile that indicates violent, illegal or dishonest behavior, finding this out before the hire could prevent a negligent hire claim. Basically, if the information was out there, easily available, and you ignored it, and then the employee commits a crime while on the job, you (the employer) could be held liable. Instances are rare, but they do occur. This can also apply to negligent retention claims as well. I’ll cover more about existing employees later.

But, researching an applicant online could show you that he/she garnered awards and other recognition that show a quality useful to your organization. You might see examples of that person’s writing ability, or creative skills; things that might not be as obvious in a resume or even an interview. 

A survey conducted by Careerbuilder in 2012 is rather enlightening. It found that 37% of employers surveyed (over 2300 responded) were using social media sites to research job candidates. What were they looking for?

            *  65% - did the candidate present himself/herself professionally?
            *  51% - is the candidate is a good fit for the company culture?
            *  45% - learn more about the candidate’s qualifications
            *  35% - is the candidate is well-rounded?
            *  12% - to look for reasons not to hire the candidate

Additionally, the survey indicated that many employers actually found reasons to hire a candidate by looking at social media profiles:

            *  54% found background information that supported professional qualifications
            *  51% found information that indicated the candidate was well-rounded, showed a wide

                range of interests
            *  49% found great communication skills
            *  44% found evidence the candidate was creative
            *  34% found other people posted great references about the candidate

So, there are advantages to be had!

Cons: One of the most serious risks to using social media, or any internet search, for the purposes of background screening and selecting applicants for interviewing and hire is the risk of gaining information you really don’t want, and shouldn’t use in your decision. Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, as well as any online presence, may contain information that would indicate membership in a protected class (for example, race, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy status, marital status, disability, sexual orientation (some state and local jurisdictions), gender expression or identity (some state and local jurisdictions), and genetic information. If you reject an applicant, you could be open to a charge of discrimination since you actually had the information. Keeping up to date on laws regarding "off duty" conduct is also vital. Many states restrict businesses from discriminating against applicants or employees for engaging in legal, off-duty activities. 

If your company is going to formally use social media for background screening, it’s advisable to have someone not involved in the decision-making process conduct the screening, and then filter out any information related to membership in a protected class, only passing on information that can lawfully be used in the hiring process. A carefully formulated, written policy is also highly recommended. You should have a good policy and guidelines about the kind of information you intend to look for in these searches. Ask yourself why are you looking at social media? Why is anything there relevant to the position or to your company?

My personal and professional opinion is that using social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for pre-employment background screening is of limited value, and is too fraught with risk, not to mention possibly unreliable information. Using a reputable background screening company removes most of that risk (there’s always risk!) and is worth the cost. However, if you really feel those sources will reveal information valuable to you, many of the background screening companies also offer social media screening as an option in addition to the standard criminal history search. You can then at least remove yourself from that part of the chain and reduce your risk.

Next time, I’ll explore how social media, and information you might get from it, plays out in the workplace, with your existing employees. Also, I’ll pass on a few tips for job seekers to help them avoid being rejected because of information they put out there for everyone to see!

1 comment:

  1. Good advice, especially for younger job seekers. I really like the "no textspeak" comment!