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Social media and recruitment: what you need to know

Hiring the perfect candidate can be a daunting task. Locating and identifying top talent has become somewhat easier with the advent of social media, but – as with most advances – there are also potential pitfalls employers and applicants should avoid, experts warn.

Chief among these potential pitfalls is using social media as a research tool in recruitment. Employers may think learning more about a candidate via a personal social media site would be advantageous, but one headhunter cautions that if you reach out to people who don’t want to mix their personal and business lives, you risk a backlash.

“That said, just about everybody does it,” said Jim Durbin, who specializes in social marketing and owns a digital marketing agency called BrandStorming. “The smart ones deny it, and others admit to it.”

Despite how ubiquitous it’s become, Durbin implores hiring managers and employers to be wary of using social media detecting as a component of background checks. Yes, it may be tempting to do some online detective work to discern which applicant’s personality best fits your corporate culture, but such acts often open the door for legal liabilities, he said.

Instead, he recommends using social media sites to publicize job openings and promote the company, allowing people to self-select as potential candidates.

“But it’s a mistake to look through profiles of candidates you have already identified,” he said. “The legal issues are clear — what you do for one person, you have to do for everyone, and you have to document it. That’s a high burden to place on your recruiting staff and hiring managers.”

Legal Implications

The law does not directly address the ramifications of employee / employer social media use, but Durbin notes that there are a number of pending court cases involving social media and candidates or employees that likely will set the precedent for what behaviors are acceptable and what are not.

“Part of the problem is the old rules don’t fit as well with the new technology. This has led some employers to ask for Facebook passwords up front during the interview. I’m astonished by that,” he added.

Maryland Division of Corrections employee officer Robert Collins contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after, during a recertification interview, the interviewer logged on to his Facebook account and read his posts and posts of his family and friends. The agency requires applicants, as well as current employees undergoing recertification, to provide the government with their social media account usernames and personal passwords for use in employee background checks.

The ACLU contends such a requirement is a gross breach of privacy and raises significant legal concerns under the Federal Stored Communications Act and Maryland state law, which protect privacy rights and extend protections to electronic communications. The state has yet to respond to the agency.

Durbin added that delving into the off-the-clock antics of an applicant or employee can create a host of additional issues. “In addition to signaling a paranoid view of the workplace, asking for someone’s personal information is too easy to abuse. Imagine that a manager asks for the password of a young woman but not the middle-aged man. That’s about 50K if you’re lucky.”

The Right Way for Employers to Use Social Media

The acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently suggested guidelines for social media to ensure employers remain compliant with federal labor laws. Lafe Solomon’s tips include:

  • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
  • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

Additionally, Durbin advises companies to use online social sites to promote the position, not screen applicants, and adopt a written policy regarding expectations about social media use to ensure the business is adhering to best practices as technology and the rules governing its use continue to evolve.

“Right now, the best companies are doing social recruiting (enhanced sourcing and communication). In the near future, we’ll all be recruiting in a social company, which will be both more fun and more challenging,” he added.

How Job-Seekers Can Use Social Media

On the flip side, job seekers should be cognizant of their personal social media presence and take a calculated approach to job hunting in social cyberspace, Durbin advises.

“You can’t add middle school friends and cousins and expect to get a lot of value, and those people aren’t going to get you jobs. Pick a network or two that is focused entirely on business, and build up a list of followers / friends / contacts that are strictly for business. Personally, I like SlideShare, blogs, and YouTube,” he said.

Though the Internet places a wealth of information — literally — at our fingertips, it is important for employers to understand the pitfalls of ascribing too much worth to the minutia of our social media lives. As Someecards so deftly illustrated, the face we put forward online often carries little resemblance to our true selves. A judgment based on that online persona may not be firmly grounded in reality.

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