Recruiting via Social Networks = Discriminatory Hiring Practices. Oh Really?

Guess what? It was only a matter of time before the lawyers were going to come in and say that social networks are bad for our health. Don’t use social networks to recruit! You’re going to discriminate! Disparate impact! Watch out!

Dunh, dunh, dunhhhhhhh. Cue the scary music. Lawsuits. Eeeek!

Go read this. It’s food for thought – the potential risks of using social networks to recruit. And in the article, you’ll see a lawyer who claims that using social networks to recruit is “ripe with risk for future discrimination claims.” Here’s the logic that we’ve been presented with in the Workforce article:

  • The economy has tanked therefore, companies are slashing recruiting budgets.
  • Social media is on the rise, and it’s cheap if not free – so companies are using social media to recruit in lieu of job boards.
  • Social networks are segmented and certain networks have audience demographics that skew one way or another – disparate impact may occur so be careful.

I see how it’s easy to arrive at this conclusion. But let’s think about this a bit more critically.

I wonder, how much are we thinking about the explosive growth of social networks? What about the penetration of social networks on a global basis? Are they really still that elite? Think about these recent numbers released by comScore:

  • Facebook experienced its highest growth rate in July 2009 – 87.7 million unique visitors in the US
  • Time spent on Facebook increased 36% in July, to a total of 15.
  • Twitter grew by 6% in July 2009 with 21.2 million unique visitors in the US
  • Time spent on Twitter increased 26% in July, to a total of 4.75 million minutes

And these are just two social networks. Read some more stats on how social networks are growing here. And the more social networks grow, won’t they become more and more diverse? I believe that.

Here’s what else I believe though. I also believe that recruiters and HR pros aren’t dummies. I don’t know of any recruiting and HR pros who can say confidently that social media for recruiting is precisely what has saved them and they are relying on it alone. Do you? Social media for recruiting isn’t the end-all, be-all. It’s a piece of the puzzle. For now, at least. And recruiters aren’t that foolish to rely on just social networks when only a certain segment of the population can be found on them. For now, at least.

So lawyers? Try and scare me. Go for it. But I’m calling foul on your claims. And give recruiters and HR pros a little more credit, will ya? MKayThanks.

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...

14 Comments

  1. Pete Radloff says:

    100% Agree Jessica. While the JD’s have a point that there will likely be some increase in litigation around social network recruiting (remember, you can sue for hot coffee in the country of ours), companies are by and large still diversifying their recruitment efforts, so that they are not ONLY recruiting from these sites, but using it so supplement their other activities.
    With the rise of social media, we’re seeing more and more people using this to supplement their job search, so wouldn’t it make logical sense for companies to tap into those networks? You have to go where the candidates are, right?

  2. Using Social Media in Recruiting and Selection: Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street… I’m just sayin’!

    Last Friday, I attended the TCU Neely School of Business’ conference on business uses of social media. It was a great event that included a speaker from LinkedIn, Hubspot, SABRE Holding’s Cubeless team, and Handango, as well as authors of…

  3. Heather says:

    I agree with not using Facebook as a single recruiting tool, but what is everyone’s opinion on using it to pick a candidate. For example, if you have two candidates you have interviewed face-to-face that seem more or less equal but one has pictures of them drinking, doing illegal drugs, badmouthing previous jobs, etc. Is that legitimate to do? I think it would probably eventually lead to lawsuits but would like to hear others’ opinions!

  4. Heather, even if that’s legal, I doubt it’s a good idea. I actually wrote about this before (http://neoacademic.com/2009/04/28/discrimination-via-social-networks/) but the issue is that seeing something on a Facebook profile doesn’t really tell you anything. Just because Candidate A has a picture of binge drinking and Candidate B doesn’t, doesn’t mean that Candidate B doesn’t binge drink. They may just be better at hiding it. By taking a Facebook hiring approach, you may just be picking whoever can hide their past better. Not to mention the whole relevance issue: do you really think that out-of-work drinking is related to job performance?

  5. WingSpread says:

    Great post Jessica! It is all part of the march towards HR morphing into a risk management and mitigation department, much like general counsels and legal teams within corporations. Much like lawyers are in the business of preventing business, HR seems to exist to prevent rational hiring.
    The HR/recruiting industry has needed something like social media to inject a bit of innovation into developing sound talent management practices. Though social media is just one channel for sourcing and vetting candidates, it is an immense and hugely rewarding channel for organizations that leverage its power.
    As for the topic of discrimination, that is happening to a great extent anyway. Outside of the explicit probing of inapproporiate information like asking age or martial status, there are too many factors that influence decision making beyond the issues of fitness for the job and for the company culture. If recruiters and hiring managers had a more sound methodology that focused on the skills and experience of the candidate, rather than the fact a candidate wore mismatched socks, then we can get away from these issues of “discrimination” based on binge drinking pictures on Facebook and other minute.

  6. karenm says:

    Jessica,
    guess you must know some really smart hr folks — wow, didn’t realize how many dummies I have come to know over the years..
    yeah, actually I do know companies, Recruiters and H.R who will ONLY utilize the internet for their recruiting efforts.. Considering the Demographics of the internet as whole (pewinternet statisics) that alone is pretty scary, especially since the diversity isn’t growing as quickly as assumed online.
    A year or so ago, sat with a recruiting “peer” at lunch, and he drew a bell curve – at the beginning of the curve was the age 18+ and at the top of the curve was -35 and the bottom of the curve was 35+ — he explained that he NEVER presented candidates that were over 35 plus, or with Non American sounding names.. and Yeah, he got the majority if not all of his candidates from the internet..
    Unfortunately over the decade+ that I have been a uncommmon.. as one guy put it so eloquently, online, on a public network for recruiters (Gee we know some really dumb people) — if the client wants a gal with a southern accent, and big boobs, and red hair, that is exactly what he will get his client – no questions asked.
    Hey, I have almost become immune of hearing from fellow recruiters saying Gee, the laws don’t apply to us, we aren’t hiring the people.. (so many don’t realize that they do.. ) that is of course considering that they even know Who the EEOC is.. Yeah, there are many who don’t even know what that Acronym is about, far less what it stands for.
    It was an interesting post jessica – I guess you are fortunate, you have surrounded yourself with a “smarter” group of friends who know better, and I only wish there were more of you!
    Unfortunately there are a lot of Not so smart recruiters out there who see that 15K placement, and will do anything to get that placement.. as well as many an H.R Manager who Does Know better, but unfortunately, they rather keep their mouths shut, so as not to rock the boat, and keep their hiring managers happy.. Sometimes i wonder are the H.R managers at Walmart, Abercrombie and Fitch, are asleep at the wheel, or are they just Not so “smart” either?

  7. Ginger Dodds says:

    Jessica,
    I think the most important point in your blog is that SOCIAL MEDIA ISN’T THE END-ALL AND BE-ALL OF YOUR RECRUITING STRATEGY. Yes, it can be cheap (if you think of your TIME as cheap) and it is where the talent pool is these days, but it’s just one piece of the overall plan. If your aren’t paying as much attention to those other pieces (your career website, your presence on job boards, your employee referral programs and heck, even your retention strategy) … then don’t expect Social Media is going to solve all your recruiting efforts.

  8. As an economic and statistical consultant specializing in employment issues and discrimination, I am recommending to my clients a comprehensive recruiting program that includes social media as well as traditional methods. Exclusive reliance on social media does carry the risk of disparate impact claims. Recent statistics regarding LinkedIn users indicate that they are more educated and less racially diverse than the Civilian Labor Force. I posted a blog entry on the demographics of LinkedIn users a while ago (http://ow.ly/FDWW) and am planning a webinar on this very topic. While it does not guarantee disparate impact claims will be filed or that they will be successful, it is important to recognize that the possibility for disparate impact does exist.

  9. Recruiters and H.R who will ONLY utilize the internet for their recruiting efforts.. Considering the Demographics of the internet as whole.

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  11. AFNI says:

    Excellent information to many people like to read articles to learn about these issues of great interest.

  12. The HR/recruiting industry has needed something like social media to inject a bit of innovation into developing sound talent management practices. Though social media is just one channel for sourcing and vetting candidates, it is an immense and hugely rewarding channel for organizations that leverage its power.

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