By: John Rossheim, Monster Senior Contributing Writer
Millions of potential job candidates have posted profiles on social media sites, and their number increases every minute. And as time goes by and careers advance, the online dossier of a given worker tends to get thicker with professional accomplishments or personal factoids, whether the individual purposely builds her presence on social media websites, or the data on her accumulates passively.
For many recruiters and hiring managers, the existence of online candidate information and the ease of accessing it to learn about your new hire creates a virtually irresistible temptation. But such access presents questions for employers, among them: How should our recruiters represent us in cyberspace? What kind of information should be admitted to the recruitment and hiring processes, and what ignored?
But first, how are employers and their recruiters using social networking sites today?
HR Dips a Toe in Social Networking
“There’s a lot of talk about recruiting with social media sites, but it really is just talk.” So says Steve Williams, director of research at the Society for Human Resource Management. “Just 3 percent of organizations use social networking as their primary source. About 17 percent use it as part of their hiring process.”
For most recruiters who use social media sites, these searches occupy a small fraction of their week. Of HR professionals who use social networking sites to screen applicants, 52 percent spend one or two hours per week on this activity; 29 percent spend three to five hours; the remainder spend longer, according to a 2008 SHRM survey of 571 HR professionals.
Perhaps the most popular use of social media recruiting is to source prospective candidates. Some 53 percent of respondents using social networking said they do so to search for passive candidates. Just over two-thirds say that social networking helps them reach candidates who they otherwise wouldn’t know about or couldn’t contact.
Learn About Social Media Before Diving In
Social networking companies have made their sites so easy to use that it’s tempting to just dip your toe in without considering how your social media marketing strategy should be deployed in these most transparent of media.
“If you’re new to social media, take some time to learn about it,” says Jennifer Jacobson, author of the forthcoming book, 42 Rules of Social Media for Business. “Find a platform that works for you.”
When HR professionals and hiring managers open a new recruitment front in social media, they need to be aware of the tone they set.
“Recruiters are typically pretty aggressive, so they have to be aware of how they come off” when they go online, says Rachna Jain, a psychologist and social marketing consultant in Beltsville, Md. “Recruiters can talk about the state of their clients’ industry, which becomes a subtle way of attracting prospects.”
In the searchable world of social media, you can publicize your hiring subtly, without directly inviting the submission of hundreds of resumes. “At a micro-blogging site like Twitter or Plurk, you can write, ‘I’m happy to welcome to our team so-and-so, who’s expert in such-and-such,” in order to connect with other members doing related keyword searches, says Jain. “It’s a way of putting your company’s successes out there in a manner that’s not overly promotional.”
Be Aware of How You Use Online Information
Once candidates are in your hiring pool, it’s tempting to Google them and search the big social media sites to see what comes up. But the mix of public, private, professional and personal information that can be found online must be used with abundant discretion, if at all.
“HR tells hiring managers that if you use social networking sites, you must verify the information to avoid liability,” says Williams. “Misuse can lead to infringement of privacy or unintentional discrimination.” If, for example, you allow information gleaned online about an applicant’s age or marital status to affect a hiring decision, you could invite a lawsuit.
“Companies must be very cautious when determining (a) if information acquired from the Internet is relevant to job performance and (b) where there is a legitimate, and legal, reason to discount a candidate based on what they might have posted online,” Robert Capwell of Employment Background Investigations Inc. writes in an October 2008 article for SHRM.
Many employers share Capwell’s caution. Of organizations that choose not to screen applicants using social networking sites, 54 percent say they have questions about the legality of the process, according to the SHRM survey.
Still, “you may question the judgment of candidates who don’t think about how personal postings can be seen by anyone,” says Jain. If you uncover firm evidence that a candidate has celebrated his abuse of alcohol online, that information is hard to ignore.
“Recruiters should try to look at the person as a whole,” says Jacobson. “Look them up on the social media sites, Google them and their email address.” And then, in evaluating the information, use your best judgment together with the advice of the experts.