Monday, August 24, 2009

We're Gonna Kill Social Media, or Get Sued Big Time!

It's back-to-school week, even for sharks. Lots of talk about upcoming recruiting conferences, tweetups, some folks report that they're seeing more reqs, others are picking up new pencils and spiral notebooks.

The folks at Peopleclick and Careerbuilder are doling out extra credit reading. Both released studies about the legal implications of using social media during the recruiting process. Peopleclick's complimentary eBook, Social Networks and Employment Law was written by Dr. Lisa Harpe of the Peopleclick Research Institute. The folks at CareerBuilder partnered with Harris Interactive to survey over 2600 hiring managers and HR professionals about their use of social media.

Here's what's got me all snarly and ogidated (made that one up, patent pending):

These reports claim that 35% of employers use information obtained on social media sites to disqualify candidates. That's a big uptick over 22% reported last year.

Sharks, are you CRAZY?

If you don't stop doing this, you and your organizations are going to get sued. Big time. And that's not all. If you don't stop doing this, the kids will abandon open social networks (like Facebook and Twitter), altogether, then we won't even be able to source them.

Social networks should be used to SOURCE candidates only. If you see something weird, inappropriate or offensive, pretend like you didn't see it and proceed as normal. Yes, I said ignore it. Proceed as if you have found the name and contact info only.

Here's why:
The law prohibits us (here in the U.S.) from making hiring decisions based on a bunch of stuff readily visible on social networks, such as race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. While you would never *think* of dismissing a candidate for any of these reasons, the mere exposure to this information make your decisions suspect in a legal arena.

So what if the potential candidate has posted an obscene picture or badmouthed a previous employer on a social networking site? Surely, we don't have to hire or even interview such people? Such poor judgment has nothing to do with following government guidelines and are good reasons to dismiss potential candidates, right? Wrong.

Here are just a few reasons you should consider the candidate, despite poor online behavior:
  1. It could be a case of mistaken identity
  2. The person's profile may have been hacked, like this young woman's unfortunate ordeal
  3. The person might be a highly talented, stellar employee who just happens to be a free spirit, exemplifying a generational difference in communication boundaries
  4. The person (or a group of people) may sue you because they believe that the cause of your dismissal was religion or age, and not naughty pictures or poor grammar. How do you prove otherwise?

Lastly, if we turn social media into HR-ninny hunting grounds, candidates will lock us out sooner than you can say "twitter". They will migrate to closed networks (remember all of those juicy user groups that were closed to recruiters because of excessive spam?) The beauty of social media is that it provides a platform for anyone to discuss anything. Recruiters, being clever, will continue to mine these platforms for candidates, as they should. But be mindful that we are not there to judge potential candidates on what we find on social networks. Find 'em on a network, then go about the business of doing the real recruiting work of finding out if they have the necessary skills, qualifications and behavioral traits to do the job by screening, interviewing and reference checking.

Now, I hate policy as much as the next shark, but we're not in Kansas anymore. Talk to your employment counsel, write up some "social media and recruiting" guidelines and make sure everyone gets trained. Everyone, including HR business partners (who are scared to death of social media and potential lawsuits. Be impressive; be proactive) and hiring managers. If you're committed to providing a fair candidate experience, put something on your career site that reminds candidates that you regularly search social media sites and perhaps even provide a few suggestions that help them with online reputation management.

Anybody out there already doing this? Would love to hear from you.

(P.S. This post is result of a Twitter conversation with Karla Porter, who will soon share her thoughts on this subject on her excellent blog, Human Capital and New Media.)


  1. Anonymous8:55 AM

    All the more reason to go to the SMA Seattle luncheon on Social Recruiting in September ( Hope to see you there :0)

  2. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Very well said, madam shark. I've found it frustrating that so many recruiters deem themselves the ethics police when it comes to assessing what non-work activies will determine a candidate is unworthy of consideration as a talented hire. I recently read in a Seattle Times article that a woman recruiting in NYC disqualified a candidate for a job because of a photo of him doing a keg stand that she viewed on Facebook. Seriously? It depends on the profession anyway - if she's recruiting him to be say the youth director at a church, maybe that is indeed relevant. If he's a regional sales manager, it may actually be a photo from a work related event (joking here...). Anyway, if Mr. Kegstand happens to be a great asset to his profession who just had some fun on the weekend and was the unlucky benefactor of being tagged by someone else online, I guess lucky for the other recruiters in the biz who won't have to compete with her for his attention when they follow your advice.

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  4. Hi Carmen,

    You bring up some super thought provoking points in your post. Thank you for the inspiration to blog on this too. Here's my take on the subject: Cyber-Vetting Digital Natives