There is a lot of confusion and concern over the growing practice of reviewing job candidates’ social media activity during recruitment and selection. Targeted to social recruiting rookies (both individuals and employers), this post provides an overview of how people’s digital activity can and should be considered during the hiring process. Questions and comments, especially from recruiting practitioners, are welcome.
Earlier this week I wrote a post entitled “Social Screening of Job Candidates: Focusing on the Facts,” which built on the ideas I first shared last fall in a white paper entitled “Social Screening: Candidates – and Employers – Beware.” Both pieces have generated a lot of interest and some really thoughtful comments in the various groups and communities where I shared them. Based on some of the feedback I’ve gotten, I decided to provide additional information that helps people put this practice in perspective within the context of the overall hiring process.
This post is the first cut at a primer of sorts. Targeting individuals and employers who don’t have a sophisticated understanding of how social media activity can be incorporated into recruitment and selection processes, it focuses on providing a high level overview and basic best practice recommendations for both hiring organizations and job candidates.
I don’t purport to know how all employers and service providers (e.g., third-party recruiters, screening companies, software vendors) are conducting social searches, and I agree with the concerns shared by many about the unethical – and possibly illegal – practices that some engage in. What I can offer, however, are my thoughts on how social media activity can and should be incorporated into the recruitment and selection process. I invite others – especially recruiting and HR professionals – to join me in developing a set of guidelines for Digital Era recruitment processes that enable employers to hire the best possible candidates in the most appropriate ways.
How Recruiting Goes Social
Most people are familiar with the recruitment and selection “funnel.” I’ve created a version that illustrates how social media activity can be incorporated into the overall process:
In the sections that follow, for each stage in the process, I provide a brief overview as well as information about the types of jobs for which the activity is relevant, who typically engages in the practice, how the process is conducted, and recommendations for employers. In reviewing this information it’s important to remember that although cyberspace adds a new dimension to the recruitment and selection process, the rules are generally the same as before. It's incumbent upon the employer to ensure that the criteria they're using to select candidates are job relevant, non-discriminatory, and legally defensible. For more information on these responsibilities, please refer to the original social screening white paper and my previous post.
- Overview: Employers can use social networking platforms (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter) and digital communities (e.g., talent communities) to share information about their organizations as well as career opportunities, specific jobs, etc. Objectives include enhancing employer branding, offering realistic job and culture previews, sharing job postings, and developing a pipeline of potential candidates. Third-party recruiters can also use these networks to identify candidates for the positions they’re trying to help their clients fill.
- Job types: All. Different platforms may be used for different job types (e.g., retail, IT) and to target different groups (e.g., recent college grads, experienced candidates).
- Initiators: Internal HR/recruiting staff, hiring managers, third-party recruiters, and maybe external communicators like marketing.
- Process: Information sharing and interactions are usually handled individually, to reinforce the human element, but some aspects can be automated (e.g., announcing new jobs via Twitter using a tool like HootSuite).
- Recommendations for employers: Resist the urge to casually “check out” people who’ve connected with your organization on public social networks, especially if they’re likely to become candidates. Although managing their digital identities and privacy settings is their responsibility, the risk and responsibility shifts to the employer once representatives start to dig deeper into an individual’s activity. Employer representatives should also resist the urge to connect with candidates individually via personal social networks like Facebook or even Twitter. Professional connections via a network like LinkedIn are generally acceptable, but even those connections should be made with care, especially by internal recruiters.
- Overview: Employers and third-party recruiters can search the internet and/or social networking platforms (e.g., LinkedIn) using specific key words (e.g., accountant, CPA, joint venture, Brazil) to find individuals who meet pre-defined job criteria, regardless of whether they are currently on the job market.
- Job types: Generally hard-to-fill positions, or those for whom the candidate pool is fairly small.
- Initiators: Internal HR/recruiting staff, hiring managers, and third-party recruiters.
- Process: The searches are often conducted manually, but they can be automated or facilitated by software (e.g., a tool like eGrabber).
- Recommendations for employers: On any site that’s professionally oriented (e.g., a blog by an IT professional about cyber security), the content is likely to be fair game, but on sites that are likely to contain personal content (e.g., Facebook), sourcers should conduct searches only if they’re vital to filling the position and are focused on job relevant information. As with social recruiting generally, sourcers should limit their review of the digital activity they discover and should avoid connecting with candidates on personally-oriented networks.
- Overview: Usually in conjunction with an employee referral program, current staff are encouraged and/or given incentives to share job opportunities with their social networks and refer potential candidates for specific jobs.
- Job types: Can be any.
- Initiators: Any current employee.
- Process: The referrals can be made using individual communication channels (e.g., email) or facilitated by software (e.g., tools like those offered by Jobvite and SelectMinds).
- Recommendations for employers: Make sure employees understand the practice is optional. If sharing is done manually, provide clear guidance regarding preferred channels, timing, presentation, etc. If a referral tool is used, employers should reinforce that using it doesn’t compromise any privacy settings they may have on their personal social networks, or the privacy of their connections.
- Overview: The quantity and quality of a candidate’s digital engagement are evaluated based on his/her public activity.
- Job types: Those for which digital engagement is relevant (e.g., marketing, communications, business development, some IT and HR positions).
- Initiators: Internal HR/recruiting staff, hiring managers, and third-party recruiters.
- Process: The searches are usually conducted manually, based on information and links provided by candidates.
- Recommendations for employers: As I discussed in the original white paper and reiterated above, job relevance is the critical factor in determining whether to engage in social selection. The nature of the engagement that is relevant to the position should be clearly defined in advance, and the review should be based on information provided by the candidates. Employers should resist the urge to conduct independent searches. Sound criteria for evaluating the engagement should be developed in advance and consistently applied across all candidates.
- Overview: Once the pool has been narrowed and the final candidates identified, a search of their public activity in cyberspace can be conducted to reveal any potential risks they may create for the employer.
- Job types: Can be any.
- Initiators: Internal staff who are not involved in the hiring decision, or a third-party service provider (which invokes the FCRA).
- Process: The searches can be conducted manually or via software algorithms (e.g., the proprietary method employed by Social Intelligence).
- Recommendations for employers: Generally speaking, this process should not be conducted by a hiring manager or someone involved in making the final decision. If an employer is going to do the searches in house, they should designate an independent group to conduct the searches and evaluate the results. The searches should focus ONLY on publicly available information. Employers should NOT ask candidates for their login credentials for their social networking accounts or ask them to log in during an interview and share their activity in person. For a host of reasons, which I articulated in my previous post, it may be better to use an FCRA-compliant third-party screening service and incorporate social screening into the regular background checking process. Even if a third party is not used, employers should provide candidates with advance notice and have them formally agree to the search. They should also consider creating a process for verifying negative results and giving candidates an opportunity to respond before adverse action is taken.
Recommendations for Individuals
- Remember that you are always on the job market, even when you’re gainfully employed with no intention of leaving. Especially if you have a unique set of skills that are in high demand, you are always fair game as a passive candidate. And as many people can attest, you can involuntarily become an active candidate at any time.
- Do not provide a prospective employer your login credentials for any of your social networking sites. The only activity they should be concerned with is that which is publicly available. If they wouldn’t expect unfettered access to your home, photo albums, personal correspondence and diary, they don’t need to see your private digital activity.
- Similarly, you should respectfully decline to log in during an interview and share your activity in person. Even if you are willing to share your accounts with them, the people in your networks haven’t agreed to have you share information about them without their knowledge/consent. With your social networking activity, it’s not just your privacy that’s at stake.
- Don’t connect with people from prospective employers/recruiters on your personal social networks. For that matter, you should limit your personal connections with any people you only/primarily know professionally (e.g., bosses, colleagues, clients). It’s best to have a high threshold for allowing a professional connection to become a personal one.
I appreciate help from folks in fleshing out the details of how social media activity can and should be used in the recruitment and hiring process. Please let me know of any content I may have missed and/or any additional recommendations you may have. Questions are also welcome. Thanks!
- Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
Disclaimer: I am neither an attorney nor a professional recruiter, and I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned in this post.