HR & Management

The danger for businesses using social media for recruitment

7 min read

30 June 2016

Social media is big in business. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, corporate social channels are now considered prime mediums for companies to announce their news, voice their opinions, promote events, and post job vacancies.

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In fact, our latest research shows that when it comes to recruitment, social is on the up, with 29 per cent of EMEA companies checking candidates’ LinkedIn profiles during the recruitment process, 14 per cent of firms checking Facebook and six per cent Twitter.

But, while social is a great way to reach candidates efficiently and cost effectively, businesses are also considering whether to use these social channels as an opportunity to better understand candidates’ backgrounds and behaviour – i.e. as part of their screening processes.

We can all see the benefits – social profiles are easily accessible, free of cost, and can help provide a fuller picture of an individual – however, there are also significant red flags over whether you could be crossing the lines of the law when it comes to social screening.

So, here are my tips on how to ensure you are adopting the right approach.

The law and the FACTs: Fair, Auditable, Consistent, Transparent

The biggest issue when it comes to social screening is the legality of it all.

From a data protection perspective, the Information Commissioner’s Office code of practice cautions against intelligence gathering beyond verifying information supplied by a candidate, except in areas of risk – such as jobs involving childcare or in regulated environments. So, the extent to which a recruiter is seeking information on an individual’s private life, without consent, could become a concern.

Equality is also an issue. People use social media to document their private lives, so if a potential employer looks at these channels they could become aware of a candidate’s ‘protected’ characteristics, such as nationality, sexual orientation, marital status or disability. These factors are usually withheld to ensure fairness, and at an extreme, a candidate could sue for discrimination.

Verification challenges – take nothing at face value

Carrying out candidate research on social media also throws up a number of question marks over verification. Social profiles, such as LinkedIn, can provide helpful insights into a candidate’s experience, but it’s important to remember this information has not been verified.

When you reflect on our latest candidate research, which revealed that almost two thirds of candidates provided inaccurate details on job applications in 2015, it’s clear that there’s nothing to stop them providing erroneous information on their social channels as well.

In the age of online, it’s easy to take for granted the information you read on the web (we all do it) but it’s critical to remember that there is rarely any certainty with online content, and a social media profile could easily be inaccurate – so, extra caution needs to be exercised.

Read more on the mix between social media and recruitment:

Candidate consent – always a must 

There’s no denying that what individuals post and promote on their personal social channels is now a professional concern, especially when it comes to high profile or senior level hires. In the past we have seen multiple examples of when ill-judged comments from senior leaders have surfaced and caused embarrassment for the individual and their organisation.

In these scenarios, conducting social media screening could limit the chances of significant risks arising later on down the line, and has become a consideration for many companies keen to avoid reputational harm. Don’t assume that because someone is senior that their social media backgrounds will be acceptable to a public audience. However – carry out any such checks with extreme caution, having sought legal advice. Make sure the checks are fair and proportionate, for instance, a prominent or public facing role, could require scrutiny in some circumstances.

Whatever you decide as the appropriate course of action when screening, always make sure you get candidate consent if you intend to check a candidate’s online presence. Alert applicants from an early stage that these searches will be performed to help protect against data privacy issues, and carry out the checks as late in the recruitment process as possible (i.e. only once someone is on a shortlist).

By developing transparent privacy and conduct guidelines and making these clear, you can clarify exactly what your company expects from employees in terms of online behaviour.

Review your processes, and if in doubt avoid it all together

With all this in mind, make sure you review your processes to ensure they are legal, fair, auditable, consistent, and transparent, and ensure all employees involved in the recruitment process fully understand your policies. If a candidate threatens a lawsuit based on the way screening has been conducted, this will be invaluable, and make sure you keep reviewing your processes to stay up-to-date in light of changing laws.

And, as a final word of warning, remember that when it comes to social screening, the law is not in your favour – if in any doubt at all in terms of the legality of your processes, avoid it until you have sought advice. Use all the other tools at your disposal to support finding the right candidate – whether that is reference checks, psychometric testing or video interviews – and ensure that you independently verify all the information that you gather.

Steve Girdler is MD for EMEA at HireRight, the candidate due diligence company.

Speaking of social media and work, British workers don’t want to befriend colleagues – at least not on Facebook.