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When it comes to using social media for hiring, it’s all about balancing risk.
One of the most important intersections between social media and
employment is in the hiring process. It is here where there are great
potential risks and rewards.
Employers can use social media in two ways when hiring: to recruit
candidates by publicizing job openings and to conduct background checks
to confirm a candidate’s qualifications for a position.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed its members in
2008, 2011 and 2013 on the use of social media for employee recruitment
and selection. Its 2013 study
revealed that 77 percent of respondent companies use social networking
sites to recruit candidates for specific jobs, up from 56 percent in
2011 and 34 percent in 2008.
Smart employers want to cast as broad a net as possible to reach as many
potential candidates as they can, and they are increasingly harnessing
social media as part of their recruitment strategy. But it should be
only a part of the strategy.
Not every job seeker uses social media. This raises a concern about
potential adverse impact on those who are economically less advantaged,
which may correlate with certain racial and ethnic groups.
So, diversify your recruiting approaches to reach potential talent and
cast a broad net. Use social media as one of many tools—not the sole
Remember that social media postings are “advertisements” that must
include the appropriate equal employment opportunity (EEO) and/or
affirmative action tagline. Further, the postings must be retained like
all other hiring documents as required by law (or longer if the
employer’s policy has a longer duration period).
When it comes to screening job applicants, it appears that fewer
employers are using social media than in the past. In the 2013 SHRM
survey, 22 percent of respondents said they use social media websites
like Facebook or Instagram to research job candidates, a decline from 34
percent in 2008.
7 Ways to Maximize Benefit and Minimize Risk
Employers are well-advised to follow this guidance when using social media in the hiring process:
When surveyed in 2013 about why they decided not to use social
networking sites for candidate screening, 74 percent of organizations
said they were concerned with legal risks or discovering information
about protected characteristics when perusing candidates’ social media
profiles. This is a legitimate concern.
For example, from a candidate’s picture, an employer may learn his or
her likely race, approximate age and more. People also commonly post
personal information such as medical or family problems.
However, the fact that the employer may learn information about a
candidate’s protected-group status or other information does not mean
that the employer will use it.
This same risk arises during an interview. Candidates often disclose information that an employer cannot consider.
I have heard it said that there are only two times when a person is
perfect: at birth and at the job interview. Employers use background
checks to get a fuller picture of the candidate than an interview
reveals. Social media screening is one way to enhance the background
check to determine whether a candidate should be hired.
There can be valuable information on a candidate’s social media pages
that an employer lawfully can consider. Individuals have posted
everything from pictures of themselves scantily clad to racist
rants—reasons not to hire them! Employers may also learn things that
weigh in favor of hiring them, such as their relevant volunteer work.
As with other kinds of background checks, there is no “on-off” switch
when it comes to using social media when hiring. Rather, key questions
that should be considered include when it is done, what is looked at,
who is doing the looking, and what is and is not considered in the
Here to Stay
Social media engagement is a relatively new territory for both employers
and employees. On the employer side, the key questions are how to get
business benefits out of these platforms and how to ensure that employee
use of social media while at work is neither distracting nor
potentially harmful to the organization.
Today, Millennials account for 36 percent of the U.S. workforce,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they will account for
75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. Given that this group of
employees has grown up actively communicating via myriad social media
sites and devices, the use of social media is a workplace trend with
staying power for the foreseeable future.
Existing laws provide a useful framework for social media use in hiring.
Although the communication methods are new, the legal issues they raise
Jonathan A. Segal is a contributing editor of HR Magazine and a
partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter
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