LinkedIn Gets Personal: Should HR Be Wary?

Recruiters warn candidates against sharing too much personal information

By Dawn Onley Oct 3, 2016
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Increasingly, when you peruse your LinkedIn feed and see the posts from your friends and associates, you might see any number of posts discussing children, mentioning people going through a major illness or asking for prayers, said Celinda Appleby, head of global recruitment branding for Oracle. LinkedIn, the social networking behemoth for professionals, is now allowing users to venture into the more personal aspects of social media—including posting status updates and even blogging.

With Microsoft's recent acquisition of LinkedIn, recruiters are keeping tabs on the site. Microsoft may be making a play to enter the social media market, experts said, and that could lead to job seekers revealing more about themselves than recruiters want to see—and company leaders could wind up revealing more about themselves than they realize to potential new hires.

Should HR Be Wary?

"I think that consistently HR's been worried about Facebook or Twitter, what can pop up there and people being super unprofessional. LinkedIn has been in the safe zone for most of us. I now think it should be added to people's radar," said Appleby, who is based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Not only are recruiters looking at potential candidates on LinkedIn, "job seekers are looking you up before they [interview]," Appleby added. Now on LinkedIn, "they may find a picture of Bob's mansion with his wife in the pool."

Some see this as little more than LinkedIn trying to get its users to spend more time on the site, the same way users of Facebook and Twitter spend significant time on those platforms. Others say this could pose an interesting dilemma for HR professionals and recruiters who heavily rely on LinkedIn to vet candidates for open positions. With the increased personalized features like status updates, and the ability to post articles, blogs and videos, HR representatives may soon be seeing more than they bargained for from potential job candidates.

"The lines of social media are getting blurrier as the platforms continue to expand," said Christy Hopkins, who works as a human resources consultant and writer at New York-based research company Fit Small Business.

Jayne Mattson is senior vice president at Keystone Associates, a leading career management and transition services consulting firm in Boston. She said sharing personal information on social media sites has become the norm. But she warned LinkedIn users to exercise caution. 

"Since LinkedIn's major use is for recruiters and corporations to find potential talent, someone could be overlooked for a role because too much of their personal life was exposed," Mattson explained. "Job seekers need to be extra cautious because biases can occur when [they post] certain types of personal or unprofessional content."

Still, she said, some limited sharing of personal interests could be a good thing. "After all, companies are hiring humans and want to know more about who their candidates are personally, but not everything. Treat LinkedIn like your resume: avoid topics of controversy such as religion, politics and specific family relations or situations. Overall, be strategic and use your common sense when sharing anything on social media sites. Evaluate everything you post. Make sure it will help you maintain your dignity as a professional."

Mikko Koskinen, HR and recruitment manager at New York-based Smarp, which operates an employee communications app agrees with Mattson and says that users sharing personal information on LinkedIn is not all bad.

"Recruiting is all about the cultural fit, so it is better if you are able to learn more about the soft values of your candidates," Koskinen explained. "When people are actively sharing both professional and more personal content, you get to know them better and you have more than just the polished surface. You get their sense of humor, friends and, most important, the surroundings they like to be in."

But that's if a recruiter can gain full access to a LinkedIn user's profile. Lars Schmidt, CEO of Reston, Va.-based recruitment consultancy AmplifyTalent, said unless a recruiter is connected to a LinkedIn user, chances are their access to a potential job candidate's profile page is limited. Schmidt added that, even if a recruiter can see a personalized status update, recruiters should not be using the LinkedIn platform to seek out this information.

So how will the Microsoft acquisition change LinkedIn?

"I think Microsoft has been trying to do social media for quite some time," Appleby said, adding she thinks the focus will be on whether or not the site is easy to use. I also think [the acquisition] will raise the price" for recruiters to use LinkedIn. "It already is. I have a feeling [Microsoft] will be able to expand the capabilities. I also think they will acquire Twitter. I see a Twitter/LinkedIn marriage down the line."

Koskinen added, "This is, of course, depending on the level of independence that [LinkedIn] will get from Microsoft," Koskinen said. "If [LinkedIn] gets to stay quite autonomous, then I have no worries. I surely hope that Microsoft doesn't take too much decision-making power away from the LinkedIn organization."

Others are curious to see whether Microsoft improves what they call the go-to social networking site for professionals, especially recruiters.

"I will be intrigued to see if the privacy features, back-end technology and user experience improve," Hopkins said. "For example, LinkedIn has a feature that, unless you turn it off, your entire network will get an update whenever you edit anything in your profile. A feature like that isn't useful and contributes to the blurred lines of personal and professional [use]."

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