Screening & SelectionTalent Acquisition

Making the Network Work

Using social media when screening candidates is powerful—if done properly.
By Todd Owens

Did you know that Facebook currently boasts more than 500 million active members and that LinkedIn’s active membership recently topped 75 million? With statistics such as these, there is no question that social networking is gaining unprecedented popularity and playing an increasingly important role in how people communicate and interact. 
As more people interact on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and others, online networks have evolved into powerful screening tools for human resources professionals. According to a recent survey conducted by the executive search firm ExecuNet, a striking 77 percent of respondents indicated that they use the web for screening potential job candidates.
While many job boards are still ahead of some social networks in number of registered users—, for example, claims to have more than 150 million users—sites such as LinkedIn aren’t far behind. And social networks pose a compelling offer that job boards don’t: They are free. In addition, social networks offer a candid glimpse at how job candidates act outside their professional lives.
It makes sense for HR, staffing, and recruiting practitioners to leverage all publicly available information about candidates to make critical hiring decisions, but organizations can easily find themselves in potential legal hot water with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act if these sites are used inappropriately. Though social networks are a convenient and free way to verify a candidate’s résumé claims, unearth undesirable behaviors, and gain insight into their skills, personality, and potential cultural fit, companies must understand the potential legal issues using social technologies. It is important for industry practitioners to understand the impact social networking can have on the hiring process to better navigate the online minefield and mitigate risk. 
Taking the Right Steps
Social networks have introduced people’s offline lives to the online world and in doing so have melded professional and personal information into a publicly accessible digital profile. Checking out a potential employee’s Facebook page or following him or her on Twitter can offer an enticing window into a candidate’s personality for recruiting and staffing professions, but knowing what information presented on social networking sites is job-relevant can help prevent costly legal entanglements. 
Before using social networking sites as a component of the screening processes, companies should always seek advice from their legal counsel. Of paramount importance is the accuracy of information found on these sites and the relevance of this information to job performance, both of which are critical to avoiding discrimination and negligent hiring lawsuits that could cost thousands, or even millions of dollars. For example, social networks can provide insight into information about religious preference, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and age, which may not otherwise be gleaned from a traditional job application. Keeping detailed records that demonstrate that hiring decisions were based on consistent, objective, and job-relevant screening practices can help prove that discrimination was not a factor in the event hiring decisions are called into question.
Companies that go the extra mile to adhere to the same standards set forth by the FCRA will ultimately be in a better position to make their case for using social networking during the screening process. When interviewing or engaging an applicant, there is nothing wrong with being upfront about the information that will be searched as part of the screening process. Using social networks might not always be the most effective screening resource. For example, if drug use is a concern, there are well established approaches that pose no legal risk and provide extremely accurate results. 
In addition to serving as screening tools, social networks provide access to a passive group of job candidates that is often very attractive to human resource professionals. While social networks can be a key component of the recruiting process, they should not be the sole means for sourcing candidates. The labor pool available through social networking sites does not reflect the demographics of the general population, so sourcing candidates through these sites alone could be deemed as having a disparate impact. Social networking combined with employee referral programs and a traditional job board or two, for example, can help widen your employment opportunities to all classes of society.
Action Steps
When discipline and common sense are exercised, social networks can give recruiters a competitive advantage. Start out on the right foot by developing a formal policy around the proper use of social networking sites for your company, and publicize it. Beyond sourcing and screening candidates, social networking sites can be used in myriad ways across your organization, such as product development collaboration, customer forums, and promotional vehicles for your offerings. Despite the growing popularity of these sites, most employees are still unclear about how to use them properly. HR can play a leading role with not only setting a social networking policy that is clear and actionable, but also communicating the policy across the organization to ensure greater compliance and further mitigate risk. 
Social networking is here to stay but just as job seekers must be cautious of their online footprint, HR professionals must understand how and when to use this valuable information.
Todd Owens is general manager of TalentWise.

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

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