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Thought Leadership

Social Media Screening: Are You Missing Out?

You can learn a lot about job candidates via social media. You can also get your organization into trouble if you're not familiar with the laws pertaining to social media screening.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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Social media has changed much about the working world, and recruitment is no exception. A recent CareerBuilder Survey finds 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates, up from only 11 percent in 2006. Even the White House does it.

As more and more companies are discovering the benefits of social media screening, are you part of the 30 percent that aren't? If so, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. According to CareerBuilder, 61 percent of employers that use social networking sites to research job candidates use these sites to find information that supports candidates' qualifications for the job, while 50 percent check to see if the candidate has a professional online persona and 24 percent use social media to find a reason not to hire a candidate.  

The world's biggest recruitment-related social media platform is, of course, LinkedIn, which was designed specifically to provide information on a candidate's qualifications and skills. It shows endorsements from other people the candidate has worked with, so you don't have to rely on their account of their skills -- you can see what others have said, too.

Yet many recruiters find other social networks to be just as important as LinkedIn when it comes to learning more about candidates. More than half of employers (54 percent) report having discovered something on social media that led them to disqualify a candidate, including provocative or inappropriate photos or information, information about drinking or drug use, and discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion. This kind of information is often gleaned from sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, social media screening can be used in positive ways and it can be used in not-so positive ways. Make sure you're practicing ethical and legal social media screening by staying up-to-date on the data, privacy and employment laws in your jurisdiction. Failing to abide by the law in these matters could land your organization in hot water.

In the US, government bodies -- including the Federal Trade Commision and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- have examined the impact of big data on hiring decisions and urged companies to be cautious.

A 2016 report from the FTC provides questions for business to consider to ensure their use of data minimizes legal or ethical risk. Relevant questions for recruiters include:

Are you complying with the accuracy and privacy provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

Are you using the data gleaned from candidates' social media accounts in a way that does not violate equal opportunity laws? For example, it's illegal to ask a job candidate about their age or religion. If you're using social media screening to determine things you're not allowed to ask in an interview, then you are violating equal opportunity laws.

How accurate are your predictions based on the data you collect? This is a big one. You may find a job candidate has used Twitter to support a politician or policy you don't like, and believe that their political leanings will make them a bad fit for the role. But is this really true? Be careful not to make assumptions that may not be true – you'll miss some good hires.

Does your reliance on big data raise ethical or fairness concerns? The FTC provides a good example: "For example, one company determined that employees who live closer to their jobs stay at these jobs longer than those who live farther away. However, another company decided to exclude this factor from its hiring algorithm because of concerns about racial discrimination, particularly since different neighborhoods can have different racial compositions.

Given the ethical and legal issues associated with social media screening, it's important to do it the right way.

Create a social media screening policy for your organization. This policy should establish how social media screening is conducted, by whom, and makes sure it stays within legal and ethical bounds. Your policy should outline:

What point in the hiring process you will conduct social media screening. Conducting screenings early in the application process may make your organization more likely to unfairly discriminate against candidates. Consider conducting social media screenings after you have interviewed candidates.

What information will be noted as part of the screening, and how it will be corroborated. Don't be too quick to eliminate a candidate from consideration. Information on social media is often inaccurate or presented without context. Don't assume that social media provides a comprehensive or accurate perspective of a person's character. Note if and how findings from social media will be corroborated (such as in interviews).

Which social media sites you will review. Searching every social media site is much too time-consuming. Consider limiting your screening to certain sites that will best give you the information you're looking for.

How and when you will inform candidates you conduct social media screening. Transparency protects your company. Get written permission from candidates to have their social media profiles screened, just as you would for a regular background check.

Who will have access to the results of the social media screening. Keep privacy considerations in mind as you determine who will see the results of the social media screening. Like an employees HR file, the results of a prospective social media screening should be kept as private as possible.

Your policy should also state what is entirely off-limits, such as:

Using social media to screen for religion, marital status, age or anything else that violates equal opportunity laws.

Rescinding a job offer because of a social media check. If you're screening candidates' social media profiles, that must happen before offering a job.

Hacking a social media profile or requiring a prospective employee to "friend" someone from your company to conduct a more comprehensive review.

Social media doesn't only provide more information on candidates that have already applied for a position. It also allows you to identify strong candidates and reach out to them directly.

Again, LinkedIn is the best example of a social network in which employers can directly contact prospective employees and encourage them to apply for a position, but it's not the only one. Who are the people engaging with your brand on Twitter? Do any of them have the skills you're looking for? Social media can be a powerful recruiting tool

If you haven't already incorporated social media into your recruiting and screening process, what are you waiting for? Valuable information about prospective hires is just a few clicks away.

Chris Lennon is vice president of product management at BirdDogHR.

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