Should You Consider Social Media in Recruiting Decisions?

Ben Olds Ben Olds, candidate experience, Candidate Pool, Mobile Recruiting, Online Applications, Recruiting

You know the story—girl meets boy, girl likes boy, girl wants to hire boy, girl decides to check boy’s Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/Instagram, girl sees stuff she doesn’t like about boy, girl doesn’t hire boy. Is this OK? What do you think? Let’s exclude LinkedIn from the debate since that’s a generally accepted business and recruiting tool. What about all the others?

Yes—it’s not only OK but should be encouraged.

Look, hiring is risky and an inexact science. Given how easy it is to game an interview, hiring managers should use whatever information is publicly available to make their decisions.

Besides, people can choose what to share to whom on social media, so they are demonstrating their judgment in what they share. It’s legal, or at least you can minimize the legal risks by rolling this into reference or background checks (don’t quote me on this—I’m not a lawyer—but there seems to be consensus on the legality if not the ethics of using social media). And the cost of making a bad hire is enormous.

You owe it to your company to base your decision on as much information as you possibly can (legally) get your hands on. Ignoring this information puts your company at a disadvantage.

No—you should respect people’s privacy.

Everything you see is out of context and therefore you don’t know how to interpret it. Is that picture of him doing a keg stand outside a Bruins game with no shirt on in 0 degree temps a common occurrence? Did it even happen or was it photoshopped? Does it signal an immature wild side or a guy who can work hard and play hard? You don’t know. But you can’t help but jump to conclusions.

Plus, people lie on their social media. My Facebook posts suggest I’m a tall, dark, handsome superstar athlete who spends his free time saving kittens and rescuing old ladies while spending his work time coaching business executives to change the world! But I don’t even like kittens ;).

Plus, you might stumble upon protected information that laws specifically prohibit you from considering (e.g., age, race, religion, etc.). How can you prove you weren’t biased by that information? We all have unconscious biases.

Finally, it just seems unethical. Would you secretly follow a candidate around over a weekend to see how he spends his time? No, you Creep Show!

My recommendation?

Ask the candidate if he’s comfortable with you looking at his social media. If he says it’s OK, then review after the first round. If you find anything alarming, ask him about it in the second round instead of making decisions out of context.

If he says he isn’t comfortable with you looking at his social media, then don’t. And don’t judge him for it. Maybe he’s just private. Unless being private somehow interferes with his ability to do this job (e.g., if you’re casting for a reality show) then don’t worry about his desire to keep private. And fix your interview process so that you can make a more informed decision without needing social media sources.

What do you think about this recommendation? Do you use social media in screening? If not, why not? Let the debate continue…

Ben Olds
Ben works in HR/OD at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge company dedicated to the simple goal of trying to cure cancer… no big deal! Ben’s on his second career, having spent his first in business/strategy consulting, mostly with Bain & Co and Monitor Group, which basically just means he relies on MS Excel to solve virtually any problem he faces. If he’s not coaching or working with colleagues on their approach to leadership, he’s helping teams create effective dynamics or planning a recognition program to motivate employees. And sometimes, he’s chasing his wife around the ice hockey rink in his weekly pick-up game, or playing tennis, squash, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or anything else to expend his nervous energy!