Should companies look at job candidates’ social media sites as part of the hiring process? A recent poll of more than 650 companies found that about 20 percent do take a look at the social networking sites of job candidates, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Opinions are divided about the practice. Some favor it, saying that it can reveal useful information that may help a company make a more informed decision. For example, it may demonstrate a candidate’s superior writing abilities or show his or her commitment to the community through charity and volunteer work.
It may also reveal negative information that a company may want to know about, say, for example, a racist screed on Facebook.
Others, however, are opposed. They compare it to eavesdropping or spying and even consider it to be unethical. Moreover, they believe it may pose legal problems because hiring managers and recruiters may be unfamiliar with the legal guidelines that apply to screening job applicants.
For example, employers cannot ask job candidates questions related to race, religion, gender, age, national origin, or disabilities. However, if hiring managers go snooping around social media sites, they may uncover this information that could taint their decision making, opening them up to charges of discrimination.
More than half of hiring managers responding to a recent survey said they found information on social media sites that caused them to eliminate a candidate from consideration, but this information often was not job related. This raises legal issues as well since all decisions by law must deal only with job related issues and information.
Critics also point out that there are issues with accuracy and that information could be misinterpreted. For example, a hiring manager may see a candidate raising a wine glass with a dark liquid in it and perhaps wonder if the person has a drinking problem. But the liquid could be something non-alcoholic, or the person could be making a toast.
Reducing the Risk
Those who favor mining social media respond that these risks can be minimized if the examination occurs as part of a normal reference or background check of candidates. Moreover, a human resources representative could make the check because this person will be familiar with the legal guidelines and thus will know what he can and cannot look for.
And, advocates say, personal sites like Facebook tend to pose greater risks and so can be avoided, but employers can still look at Twitter and more professionally oriented sites like LinkedIn.
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