Social media is becoming a great way for recruiters to announce job openings and find qualified candidates. The conversational nature of social media allows you to interact with potential applicants and learn more about their professional backgrounds, experiences, and goals. That being said, it also opens the door to learning a lot about applicants that you might not discover during a traditional interview.
Which begs the question: If a candidate applies and you don't know a lot about them, should you do a little detective work via social media?
We talked to recruiting and legal experts about when it is and is not appropriate to search social sites for job candidates. Here are some pointers on when and why to turn to social media for applicant information.
Understand the Purpose of Your Search
Daniel Schwartz, a partner at Pullman & Comley, LLC, a law firm which provides legal and labor law advice, suggests asking yourself a few questions to decide if using social media in the recruiting process makes sense for your organization. "I hate to use the lawyerly 'it depends,' but it's not a simple question to answer. If pressed, I would say 'yes but with real limits.'" Schwartz recommends answering three questions before you begin your search:
- Why do you want to use social media?
- What information are you hoping to find?
- Is the fact that an employee uses social media a bonus or a demerit?
These three questions will help you understand the purpose of your search and perhaps shed a little bit of light on whether you should move forward. Schwartz noted, "I think too many employers think that adding social media to the hiring process will make their decision-making easier, but because of the volume and types of information available, it may only makes it more complicated."
Andrew J. Filipowski, executive chairman and CEO at SilkRoad technology, which provides talent management tools and solutions, is an advocate of using social media during candidate searches. "Companies should search for a candidate's info on social sites to see if the candidate is a 'real' person with an online presence. We all want to hire savvy employees and this is a great test to find out if they stay current and engaged."
But he also tosses out a word of caution:
"This doesn't mean companies should look up everything on the candidate and use those vacation pictures or personal tastes to judge if that person is a good candidate for the job. It's important to remember our private persona is very different from our professional one. If someone writes she likes wine, that doesn't mean she's going to drink wine at her desk."
Before you launch your new side job as a social media detective, make sure you are seeking candidate information on social sites for the right reasons. Otherwise, you might just be adding another complication to the process.
Focus on Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
"The only information companies should be researching is information that is pertinent to the position that the individual is or could be applying for," says Heather McGough, a staffing consultant for Microsoft. "This could include blog forums that are related to job expertise, Facebook fan pages that are devoted to one’s applicable skills, and information regarding job history on networks such as LinkedIn." She continued:
"When researching a candidate's applicable skills in relation to a specific job it should not matter what they have been doing in their free time, on their vacations, or over holidays. What is important is their ability to perform the appropriate tasks in relation to the position."
Now you might be saying to yourself, I knew that. Stick to skills and abilities. The situation becomes a little trickier when you're not searching per se, but you happen upon some weird posts or tweets after the person applies for a job.
Schwartz reminds us to use that information in the same way that you would with other candidates. "Suppose you hear from an employee that a candidate likes to stay out late at nightclubs during the week -- would you ignore that information or use it? But when you start using information that you would be prohibited from using anyways (things like race, gender, marital status, etc.), then you know you’ve crossed a line."
Filipowski also suggests it depends on how "weird" these postings are:
"If these things are something illegal or something that indicates an angry person, you most likely can find a better candidate. But if it's 'weird' in the way that they have eccentric tastes or dress-up as a superhero at conventions, that in no way means they might be a bad employee. By no longer considering them for the job, you could be losing an excellent candidate for your organization."
During the Interview
Ultimately, candidates should be reviewed based on their qualifications. If an individual possesses the skills relevant to the position in mind, then a recruiter must evaluate them appropriately. McGough points out the importance of being non-judgmental.
"Does one really understand the entire context behind a Facebook update or a mobile uploaded photo? I would think not. It is cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover. In my ten years of corporate recruiting, I have been surprised more than once by what’s behind the cover. Peel back the onion a bit and use the interview to dive into relevant questions that will highlight the individual's expertise. And finally, if the candidate is not a fit due to skills and experience, don’t gossip about what you may have seen on their MySpace site!"
"Asking for someone’s passwords seems to cross a line that most people are uncomfortable with. One way to circumvent that is to provide notice that you will conduct a background check that may include a review of any publicly-available social media sites. But we typically don’t advise snooping into an account that has its privacy settings turned to Warp 10."
"There's more than a little talk about privacy settings in the news," explains McGough. "Candidates ought to be very aware of the consequences when they post information about their likes and dislikes or their abilities and inabilities. It's only a matter of time before those comments will be common knowledge."
After a Candidate is Hired
Even when, as a recruiter, you take all the correct steps during the interview process, unexpected things can arise after a candidate is hired. If you make a strange discovery via social media after a candidate is on board, keep calm and try not to overreact. Treat the information as you would any other type of information. Schwartz remembers, "Just like we went through an adjustment period to employee misuse of e-mail, we seem to be going through an adjustment period on social media. It may be new, but the types of issues that are being raised aren’t." He recommends imagining how you might react if the information was surfaced in another manner, say via e-mail or during conversation with co-workers. "That will take some of the mystique away from social media," Schwartz noted.
McGough agrees that it is important to handle unexpected and possibly harmful information about employees or candidates in the proper way:
"I often tell my clients and candidates that I am a vault. I take in a lot of interesting candidate and client information, information that is not appropriate to share with colleagues, other clients, other candidates, or anyone for that matter. If the 'questionable' material is not related to job performance, then you need to leave it alone and lock it in the vault. However, if the information is related to lack of performance or negatively impacting the company, it is your responsibility to let your HR representative know of the situation. I would recommend feeding the information without bias or opinion and leaving it to human resources to determine appropriate action."
Social media is an excellent way to spread the word about your company, announce job openings, and connect with potential future employees. Use it that way, not to spy on or eliminate candidates. Review a candidate's resume and/or application for job history, qualifications, accomplishments and skills -- that's how you will find the best candidate.
Search to confirm they do, in fact, work where they claim that they work and to confirm they have experience in the fields they list as having experience in. But, as Filipowski says, "be wary of dismissing a candidate over pictures with a group of friends at a concert, because having personality and interests is what makes your employees more well-rounded individuals."
As a recruiter, have you ever used social media to search for information about a job candidate or employee? If so, let us know why you turned to social media and how it worked out in the comments below.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, alexsl