Screening & SelectionTalent Acquisition

A Recruiter’s Forbidden Fruit

Resisting the temptation to engage in pixilated privacy invasion.

By Shellie Sturmer and William Tincup
It’s hard to think of an industry more directly impacted by the downturn than recruiting. At this time, when recruiters—corporate and third party—have had to do more with less, good fortune (and technological innovation) handed them a gift. Social media has been around for more years than most people realize, but it has only reached its tipping point since 2008. Maybe necessity really is the mother of invention, or at least the mother of adoption.

So here we are, still suffering through high unemployment and hiring freezes (in some industries), but now we are armed with a tool so useful to our craft that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t invented by a recruiter. However, social media is both the recruiters’ panacea and a bain of their existence. It is so easy to find information today that we drown in it. And while there is more information, it is oftentimes very personal information.

On the one hand, social media provides us with a way to find passive candidates based on their interests and industry associations; it gives us a vehicle for contacting and engaging with those people; and it provides a platform for reading their virtual resume online (thanks, LinkedIn). But on the other hand, it tempts us to put on our voyeurs’ glasses with the click of a mouse and then use or misuse the human exhibitionist nature to our advantage—making determinations about whether a candidate is a “good fit” for the job and company in question. For this reason, social media is seen by some as the “serpent in the garden.” The “forbidden fruit” is the level of detail—sometimes incriminating—that a recruiter can now access. Today, everyone is dealing with boundary issues and trying to figure out how to make the best use of this unprecedented level of information so that they can do their job, keep their clients happy, and survive the downturn—without violating EEOC regulations, or frankly, their own moral compass.

Following is a hypothetical case study based on an amalgam of client and recruitment situations that we are beginning to confront every day. In the style of Harvard Business Review, this article presents readers with a case, and asks that they place themselves in the role of the decision maker. The reader’s task is to read through the situation, identify the problem(s), perform the necessary analysis, and come to a set of recommendations.
If you feel uncomfortable reading this, you should. It is written to challenge the audience to think about how they allow information to affect their decisions and how they will determine the best, most appropriate use of the information. It’s also exaggerated to make the point. Very few cases will have so many thorny issues. So while some of you might think “this is just not realistic,” we guarantee that many cases will have at least one or two such “dilemmas.”

As the new talent acquisition leader, you have recently been made aware of a requisition for the VP of product management that has been open for 180 days. As you’ve talked to the hiring manager, you’ve been informed that top performers in this position have typically been female. The position will be located at the company’s Omaha headquarters. The company is Christian-owned and operated. The hire will be expected to travel 50 percent of the time. Compensation and benefits are above market.
You make this particular requisition a priority and personally review progress. Three weeks later, your sourcing team finds and vets a qualified candidate. The candidate interviews well, her background check is positive, the assessments are favorable, and the fact checking of previous experience and education is great. But, the recruiting team is out to impress their new leader, you, and some of what they’ve uncovered through social media is concerning:

1.  According to her LinkedIn profile, the candidate graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth, but this honor is not noted on her resume.
 2.  Her MENSA Club membership appears on the resume, but not on her LinkedIn profile.
3.  Heated customer service tweets are found between the candidate and Verizon over billing issues. In some instances, your candidate uses profanity.
 4. The candidate checks in via Foursquare at Bally’s Fitness an average of three times per day usually during working hours (8 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m.).
 5.  She is outspoken on Twitter about her political views and support of liberal Democratic candidates.
 6.  She is a member of a pro-choice group on Facebook.
 7.  The candidate’s photo albums on Facebook indicate countless photos depicting romantic kissing with multiple partners, and at least a few show her partaking in the use of illegal substances.
 8.  The candidate has recently joined NORML and other legalization groups via LinkedIn and Facebook.
9.  The candidate’s resume suggests that she should be 39 based on her college graduation date, but her Facebook profile indicates a birth date that would make her 48.
 10.  In her responses to a series of 25 personal questions on Facebook she states that she was born overseas.
 11.  Twitter conversations with friends discuss the anniversary of a night she spent in jail.
 12.  Comments appear on her Facebook “Wall” from friends about her goal to overcome a fear of flying.
 13.  Her Facebook relationship status changed, and tweets suggest she has recently begun divorce proceedings, but posts to her Wall on Facebook suggest that she is late in the first trimester of a pregnancy.
 14. Her religious affiliation on Facebook is listed as atheist, and “political views” list liberal Democrat.


Do you present this candidate to your hiring manager? Co-authors Shellie Sturmer, client services director at Pinstripe, and William Tincup, CEO of Tincup & Co., share the following philosophies.
Tincup: Most of the information uncovered above should not be taken into account. For example, of the first two issues, recruiters see LinkedIn as the world’s largest online resume database. For this reason and because no length limitations are on LinkedIn, it is almost always a source of greater detail than a standard one-page resume. These factors could easily explain away the discrepancies identified above.

Overall, l’m impressed with my candidate’s familiarity with social media. While the heated public dispute and aggressive workout schedule could be viewed as indications of poor judgment or eccentric behavior, these are not related to her qualification for the position in question. In terms of the rest of her information on Twitter and Facebook, it is personal and should not be used in evaluating the candidate—and, frankly, it would not have been available even two years ago! As tempting as it might be to want to fill a position at a Christian-owned company with a Christian, religious affiliation has nothing to do with her qualifications for the job, and considering them in your decision-making process is discrimination.

In summary, yes, I recommend this candidate to my client. I do so without hesitation. A few years ago, none of this would have been an issue, because I wouldn’t have had access to all of this information, and for me that is the litmus test. As I see it, social media represents information. But it’s what we do with it that is important.
Sturmer: First of all, as a new talent acquisition leader, I should confirm that my company has a social media policy in place and what it is. Then I need to go back to the team and provide guidance on appropriate uses for social media profiles as part of the candidate screening and qualification process. In an age when a candidate’s participation in social media might be a legitimate criterion that a recruiter needs to confirm, this can get very tricky. I will also suggest that a member of my sourcing team counsel the candidate that during their job search she might want to adjust her privacy settings on social media profiles, and refrain from posting photos or tweeting information she wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.

In this particular case, such an abundance of personal information was made public that it might be hard to avoid, but any reader who discovers that their recruiters are intentionally using social media to pry into a candidate’s personal life needs to immediately address it. Not only because of the great hires they will disregard due to specious information found online, but because it is a moral imperative that opens a Pandora’s box of potential discrimination lawsuits and accusations of violating EEOC rules and FCRA regulations.

The bottom line is that social media provides a global resource for promoting employers and their talent needs, and finding and connecting with qualified candidates, but you can’t make decisions about a candidate’s future success in a job based on the personal and political detail you can uncover in the process. So, by all means, join industry associations and groups, follow blog forums that are related to job expertise, read Facebook fan pages that are devoted to applicable skills, and research job history on networks such as LinkedIn. But steer clear of the temptation to go digging for personal information.

For the reasons above, and because I trust the results of the interviews, background check, and fact checking performed by my team, I ask my team to uncover a larger slate of candidates, using a consistent process as outlined above, and we set a time to reconvene in two weeks. I circle back around with the hiring manager to let her know our progress and request additional referrals and referral sources from her team.
Shellie Sturmer is director of client services for Pinstripe. She can be reached at William Tincup is the CEO of Tincup & Co. He can be reached at william@ 

Tags: HRO Today Forum North America, Screening & Selection, Talent Acquisition

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