Knowledge Centre for recruitment

Social Networking And Recruitment

There is much debate these days about the validity and ethics of using social networking sites as part of your recruitment process. The fact that there is debate is interesting in itself.

These sites and the information they contain are ‘out there' and therefore to have the debate about whether or not they should be used to inform a recruitment decision is close to academic. The sites are there, the data is there, and people being people will look at the information; whether this is a sanctioned element of an organisation's recruitment campaign or not - indeed there is an argument that the more you drive it underground the harder it is to keep the judgements legitimate and useful.

It seems to me that of more relevance is the debate about how the information should be used. Interpreting data and turning it into something that informs the recruitment judgement and spots potential is part art, and part science. The ‘game' however is changing with new data becoming available and forming part of the mix. Our ability to use this data intelligently is going to be what separates us out in the ongoing search for top talent.

Here is an illustration: I participate in a few business forums, not least HireScores.com career forums and a short while ago read a debate about an IT/SEO provider. The original poster had an issue with this company and one of the supporting arguments from another poster was ‘look at this guy's social networking profile - if they employ people like this it is no wonder they are hopeless' (or something to this effect). Basically the profile was one of their programmers who had put something down like 'I love my job with XCo - I get to mess around on the web all day and even get paid for it.'

Interestingly the majority of the debate was around how outrageous it was that they employed someone with an attitude like this. My take, however, was quite different, namely that this is exactly the kind of guy you want to employ in an SEO role - he loves the web and loves to mess about with things both in his own time and at work. Now, clearly without further investigation either position might be true but the point of the story is that previous norms cannot be used when evaluating the data gleaned from social networking sites. They are just this - social - so the language and the attitudes are going to be a bit more relaxed. If this guy had said this at an interview I would have marked him as having poor judgement but reading it on his home page I get a picture of someone who likes working on the web (hmmmm, can't be all bad if that is the job).

Thus part of the ability to benefit from this data is our ability to use the data appropriately and to not get caught in stereotyping (a key recruitment watch out) and setting it in context. It is also necessary to consider timeframe. Once something is on the web it is out there forever but that does not mean it is forever true. So show some judgement and ignore data that is 5 years out of date, posted when the 21 year old graduate recruit was 16 and perhaps just a little bit less wise. But if somebody wants to talk about how they faked a few days sick last month because they were recovering from a boozy weekend, you might want to check it out.

In terms of the ultimate question - 'Is it fair to use this data?' - the answer has to be 'yes'. It is self-disclosed information put into the public domain by an individual. There is sufficient press for individuals to know that this data is scanned by recruiters so the ‘rules' are clear. For the posters, the message has to be 'Consider that you will be judged by what you post, so ensure you are true to your values at all times.'

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