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Social media screening – getting the balance right

4th August 2017


Hands up those of you who have used social media sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to check out a job candidate? If the answer is yes, you’re certainly not alone.

Recent research from recruitment company CareerBuilder suggests that 70 per cent of employers now regularly use social media networks to help screen applicants. There’s no universal law that says you can’t use what is after all publicly available information in this way, but forthcoming changes to data protection rules suggests it’s an area to be approached with considerable caution.

According to a BBC News report, an EU data protection working party has recommended that any data collected from an Internet search of potential candidates must be necessary and relevant to the job. This has been best practice advice from bodies like Acas and the CIPD for some time, but when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May next year, it’s possible that employers may find their use of social media in the recruitment process under more scrutiny than before.

Of course much use of social media networks by employers looking for new staff is well-intentioned. The CareerBuilder survey found that the majority of hiring managers were looking for information that supported a candidate’s suitability and qualifications for the role. Some were also looking to see if the candidate had a professional on-line presence or if they looked like a good fit for the company culture.

A smaller percentage (24 per cent), however, admitted to looking for reasons not to hire the candidate – with inappropriate photos, discriminatory comments or ‘bad-mouthing’ a previous employer high on the list of things that would raise alarm bells.

Acas advises that employers could find themselves in hot water if they refuse to interview or offer a job to a candidate based on a judgement they have made after looking at their social media profile. This could be regarded by an employment tribunal as discriminatory behaviour, for example, if decisions are being made on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’ such as age, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation.

There are, of course, also ethical considerations to be taken into account. There’s a fine line between appropriate research and invading people’s privacy by snooping on social media to see what they are up to in their private lives.

Professional pre-employment screening can provide valuable reassurance that candidates are who they say they are, that they have appropriate skills and qualifications for the job and that there is nothing in their background that could come back and bite you at a later date.

But if your organisation is using social media to screen candidates, here are three issues you need to consider:

Openness and transparency

If you are researching candidates on social media you need to be up front about it. Candidates should be informed, and given the chance to respond to any potentially negative information you may have unearthed. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation, for example, for a mismatch between someone’s CV and what it says on their LinkedIn profile. Make sure you are always transparent about your use of social media in the recruitment process.

Professional versus private

It’s important to think about which networks you are using to research candidates. LinkedIn is a professional network designed to help people share information about their background and expertise and it’s generally considered acceptable for employers to use it to find out about potential recruits. Networks like Facebook, however, are a different ball game, given that they are primarily used by people to connect and communicate with friends and family. Ask yourself if you are really likely to find information on networks like this which is going to be relevant to a job application.

Fairness

Not everyone who applies for a job will necessarily have a presence on social media. Ask yourself whether it is fair to assess some candidates on their social media profiles if you can’t do the same for everyone. Be aware that levels of proficiency on social media may also vary depending on people’s background, experience and how much they have had to use it in their job. Not being a social media whizz doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a good candidate – unless of course they will be using social media in their role!