How Important Is Social Media in the Hiring Process?

Remember when screening a candidate past the interview stage was limited to references and a credit, background or drug test? The growth of social media has introduced another dimension to the hiring process – that while on the surface appears positive, can present challenges in gaining a clear picture of a candidate – both socially and professionally. As social media is increasingly being leveraged to evaluate candidates, employers will need to determine what policies they will put in place to ensure consistency in the hiring process.

According to a recent study, nearly half (48 percent) of candidates believe their social media presence is important or very important to potential employers. “Candidates are, or should be, aware that employers can learn a lot about them prior to meeting with them,” says Analisa Blakley, Director of Marketing and Operations for Judson Group. Particularly when hiring for customer facing roles, employers know what they see online is what their clients and customers will see. “It’s important to review your social media presence to ensure it reflects the personal brand you’ve built for yourself professionally,” adds Blakley.

While many employers casually review candidate social media profiles, the survey reveals that 18 percent are formalizing the process, and another 17 percent say they’re considering doing so in the future. But what are they looking for? Although they want to learn something about the candidate’s social life or the choices they make – 39 percent of hiring managers say questionable content or behavior is the No. 1 thing they look for – they are also looking to see if the job resume is consistent with the information posted on social media by the candidate. “It’s simple for employers to cross check the information in a resume with what a candidate posts online,” observes Blakley. “It’s a good idea for candidates to make sure their information is accurate both online and in the resume.”

The Pitfalls of Overreliance on Social Media in Hiring Decisions

Not everyone updates their social media to their current situation and there are still some candidates who do not have a social media presence. As employers check out candidates, they may inadvertently ignore someone who is a perfect fit simply due to their lack of a social media presence or inconsistent updating of their information. “It’s not necessarily a red flag if a candidate’s social media profile is marked private or doesn’t exist,” notes Blakley. “Many people have increased their privacy settings recently, following security breaches.” A quick review of a candidate’s social media presence provides employers another dimension of understanding about a candidate, another touchpoint, that may give one candidate an edge over others.

Another risk that employers face when using social media information in the hiring process is a legal one. Employers have to be aware of the types of information they are selecting to use in the hiring process; it can be problematic to assess candidates based on their race or gender since this information is protected legally and cannot be taken into account when hiring, according to the Chicago Tribune.

CAUTION – If you learn of a candidate’s protected characteristic(s) (including age, sex, race, color, religion, and national origin) by reviewing the candidate’s social media sites, you may not allow that to influence your willingness to recruit and/or refer that candidate to your client. Likewise, you should not share that information with your team.

Creating a Consistent Policy on the Use of Social Media in Hiring

If your company reviews social media profiles, it’s best to establish a policy around the use of candidates’ online information in the hiring process that clearly outlines when online searches should and should not be used.

Consider how to incorporate the following components into your policy:

  • Clarity on the rationale for the use of searches
  • Transparency for those using the policy and for candidates who are the subject of searches
  • Consistency in terms of how searches are conducted and who conducts them
  • Openness about what impact the findings will have on candidates

“When used correctly and legally, a review of a candidate’s online profiles can be a helpful hiring tool,” concludes Blakley. “However, it’s only one of the tools. It’s best to get to know a candidate by asking the right questions and encouraging an honest dialogue during the interviews.”

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