According to a frequently cited 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70 per cent of employers study job applicants’ social media profiles as part of their screening process and 54 per cent have rejected applicants because of information they found on these channels.
However, new research suggests that hiring managers should be cautious about how they use such information.
Firstly, in many jurisdictions, employers are legally prohibited or at least ethically discouraged from letting information such as candidates’ gender, race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or political views influence their hiring decisions. Most candidates’ social media profiles are bound to reveal such information.
Secondly, little of it is predictive of performance or intentions to stay in the job. In one of their studies, the researchers got supervisors’ ratings for 81 job seekers after six to 12 months of employment and asked these employees whether they intended to stay. They then proceeded to ask a new set of recruiters to assess these employees’ Facebook profiles. One group of recruiters did so without any special instructions, while the other group was told to focus on work-related information and avoid job-irrelevant details. Neither group accurately predicted job performance or turnover intentions.
It’s clear that people on the ground are also starting to question the practice of screening candidates based on their social media profiles. 71 per cent of respondents to PeopleSearch’s recent LinkedIn poll agreed that candidates’ social media profiles are irrelevant. However, 21 per cent said they reveal useful information.
PERSONAL VERSUS PROFESSIONAL
LinkedIn profiles are meant to be a secondary resume and both employers and candidates treat it as such. But what about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.?
Employers who want to run background checks on candidate data such as credit information or legal problems have other more reliable means of doing so, but many say that social media profiles help them get a sense of the candidate as a person and whether they would fit into the organisation.
Bear in mind however that the way a candidate behaves in a social setting might be very different from how they choose to behave in a professional setting. Conclusions and assumptions based on their social media posts may not be entirely fair.
In addition, some job seekers clean up their social media pages and tighten their privacy settings, so you may end up not getting an authentic or full picture anyway.
MAXIMISE FAIRNESS AND OBJECTIVITY
If you insist on scrutinising candidates’ social media profiles, you should make a concerted effort to discern between relevant and irrelevant information in order to prevent discrimination and unfair assessments of a person’s suitability for the job and ability to excel.
Relevant information would obviously include education, work experience, subject matter expertise and how they interact with their professional network. Behaviour pertaining to character is also important. Look out for the use of profanity or anything that could imply a lack of integrity.
According to the CareerBuilder survey, these are the leading types of posts and behaviour that left a bad taste in employers’ mouths.
- Job candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information: 40%
- Job candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs: 36%
- Job candidate had discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.: 31%
- Job candidate was linked to criminal behaviour: 30%
- Job candidate lied about their qualifications: 27%
- Job candidate had poor communication skills: 27%
- Job candidate bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employees: 25%
- Job candidate’s screen name was unprofessional: 22%
- Job candidate shared confidential information from previous employers: 20%
- Job candidate lied about an absence: 16%
- Job candidate posted too frequently: 12%
Above all else, screeners should follow best practices. These include:
1. Focus only on work-related information
2. Ignore job-irrelevant details
3. Use the same criteria to evaluate all candidates
4. Avoid decision-making errors and biases, e.g. favouring candidates whose interests align with their own
HOW USEFUL IS THE INFORMATION ANYWAY?
Given the fact that several studies have shown information on candidates’ social media profiles is not predictive of job performance, you may want to reconsider how much weight you place on it.
Organisations must decide how far they want to go in terms of studying social media profiles and make it a point to exercise discernment when considering information gleaned from these sources.
Researchers suggest looking instead at machine-learning applications that could identify certain personality traits based on people’s social media profiles. This information could prove useful in determining how to manage individuals and bring out the best in them once they’ve come on board.