The Society of Human Resources (SHRM), released the results of a recent survey about employers’ use of social-media in the hiring process. The findings may surprise some. According to SHRM’s survey, there are fewer employers using social-media sites to screen job applicants than there were in 2008. The employers who participated in the survey responded that three primary concerns were serious enough to deter them from looking online for information about a candidate prior to making an offer. Specifically, they identified: (1) “legal risks,” including potentially discovering “information about protected characteristics;” (2) lack of verifiable data; and (3) lack of job relatedness.
I agree completely with the third reason cited. Before surfing the web for information about an applicant, employers should make an internal assessment of whether such a search is appropriate and necessary for that particular position. If it’s not necessary, the employer should make an official decision that online searches should not be performed-by anyone in the organization. If, however, there is a reason that an online search or social-media search may be appropriate, the employer should make an official decision reflecting this and then implement a policy about who will be authorized to perform the search and under what conditions.
Of course, regular readers will know that I wholly disagree with reason #1. So long as the employer adopts, implements, and enforces a clear policy about who will (and, perhaps, more important, who will not), have access to the information obtained during the search, online searches can be performed effectively and lawfully.
Regular readers also will know that I disagree with reason #3, above. As part of any defensible plan to incorporate social-media searches into a background-check program, employers absolutely should provide any negative information about a candidate. Not only is this the right thing to do as a simple matter of fairness but it also is critical to ensure that the information is accurate. Unfortunately, according to the survey, only 27% of employers who do use information obtained online in hiring decisions actually give the candidate an opportunity to explain the information that is found.
One more thought on the results of this survey-I have to question the validity of the survey results. I teach a lot of seminars to employers about social-media in the workplace. I also teach social-media seminars to graduate and professional students-who soon will become employees. In every seminar that I teach, I ask attendees whether they are using social media for hiring or, in the case of students, whether they believe they’re being Googled by their potential employers. The answer in both cases is a resounding “yes.” So, the results of the SHRM survey seem difficult to align with ,my experience. One possible explanation to the discrepancy? Perhaps there’s a hesitancy by employers to admit that they’re using social media to screen job applicants.