5 things to know before checking out job candidates on social media

Few argue that social media offers insights, but there are risks for employers who use it for candidate research

Social media can reveal a treasure trove of insights into the personality and possible commitment of a job candidate, but there are risks for employers who use it for research.

LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are not just the big three when it comes to social media; they are human data juggernauts, almost impossible to ignore when recruiters source and check job candidates.

Jobvite’s 2015 Recruiter Nation survey found that among US recruitment agencies and in-house human resources teams, 92 per cent used social media as a tool for sourcing candidates. About 87 per cent used LinkedIn, 55 per cent tapped into Facebook and 47 per cent used Twitter.

Even Vimeo, Tumblr and Periscope profiles are in the mix as part of the candidate reviewing process.

Few argue that social media offers insights into potential candidates. It is not just a view into someone’s interests and their lifestyle, it’s about what they say and how they say it. Posts can reveal intelligence, character and possibly even commitment.

Does a social media profile reveal what a candidate thinks of their job or industry? Are they passionate about their work? Is the architect you’re searching for showing more interest in partying than design? Social media can tell you something about the candidate’s priorities and predilections but it comes with a number of caveats attached.

1. The Privacy Act is paramount, even for recruitment

Privacy experts say changes to the Privacy Act that came into effect in March 2014 have important implications for recruitment.

Marta Ganko, author of the Deloitte Australian Privacy Index, says the update to the law is clear about how information can be sourced: it must be in line with “the reasonable expectations” of the candidate.

While companies need not seek candidates’ consent to perform a search, the candidates must be notified that this process is in motion. Not all businesses are caught by the Act – it covers organisations turning over more than A$3 million a year or any health service provider, including gyms.

Employers should be aware that a candidate may plead discrimination if the information collected does not show why the person did not get the job, or there is some hint that bias of any kind crept into the decision.

“It’s about making sure candidates understand the methodology of how information is being collected so they [the employer] can explain to job applicants why they were or were not selected,” Ganko says.

Paradoxically, once a candidate is employed, the Act no longer applies, but when he or she leaves the job or is sacked, it applies all over again, says Paul Gordon, social media lawyer at Adelaide law firm NDA Law. It is critical to keep records at all times.

“What you’re collecting, why you’re collecting, how the information will be used, who you might disclose it to and how secure it is are all relevant,” Gordon explains.

2. How accurate is social media information on job candidates?

Recruiters need to question how open and accurate people will be on social media.

“People are strengthening privacy settings and even changing their names just to make sure employers or outsiders don’t see what they’re doing,” says Ganko.

Information may be outdated or simply false. As the Privacy Act places a strong obligation on companies to hold accurate data on any person they are considering for a job, information drawn from any source must be correct. Younger, savvier job seekers are increasingly finding ways and tricks to hide the truth, she says.

3. LinkedIn is not a client database

Peter Noblet, senior regional director at Hays Specialist Recruitment in Melbourne, warns about direct sourcing of candidates from social media.

“Just because people have put details on a networking site, it does not mean they are happy to be contacted about a job,” he says.

Noblet believes that without a substantial presence on LinkedIn – indeed most social networks – few candidates will take a company’s recruiting efforts seriously.

Noblet sees Hays’ role on social media as an opportunity to be a thought leader, building up a network of like-minded people who will be receptive when a job opportunity does come online.

“This is about positioning your brand to reveal your expertise and knowledge. It’s a long-term game,” he says.

4. Select the social medium intelligently when recruiting

Not all social networks are equal, at least in recruitment terms. There are often cases of recruiters hitting social channels with similar job postings which do not fit all of the media.

LinkedIn is apt for researching white-collar, mid-senior level candidates, but Twitter and Facebook are more about joining in and conversing, with no sourcing involved.

“Snapchat wasn’t a forum for businesses a few years back, but with some of its new functions that has changed,” says Noblet.

“People can put stories on them. Much the same has happened with Instagram. It’s an opportunity to present the brand.”

5. Bias is your enemy

The more a recruiter looks into a candidate’s personal life, the more liable he or she is to introduce his or her own biases.

A candidate’s age, attractiveness, marital status, sexual orientation, number of children and political persuasion may come to light and prove to be an overpowering factor in the hiring decision.

To nullify bias, some even argue that it’s preferable to interview candidates first and check social media later. Social media should only paint a broad picture of an individual and give some context and colour, but before making any firm conclusions, check other sources, experts say.

“You can’t avoid the need to speak to references and you certainly can’t avoid the need to do due diligence on potential employees beyond social media,” Gordon says.

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