Social Media & Hiring: Best Practices

Many, many articles have been published in recent years about the benefits and risks of accessing social media sites during the hiring process. Most of the articles focus on the screening of applicants rather than the sourcing of applicants. Screening applicants involves analysis and decision making. Sourcing involves casting a net for applicants by posting job openings. As between screening and sourcing, the use of social media in the screening of applicants is perceived to be more risky as the temptation to eliminate a candidate based solely on their online presence can be great. In truth, though, sourcing applicants via social media may also entail pitfalls because scholarly research suggests that electronic job boards may tend to exclude certain demographics. On one hand, an applicant’s electronic footprint may perfectly support, or even enhance the understanding of, the applicant’s qualifications for the open position. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites may very well contain useful and appropriate information about an applicant’s professional experiences and accomplishments that endorses the applicant’s candidacy. On the other hand, social media sites may also contain information that an employer can’t “unlearn” or “unsee.” By accessing LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, an employer may see an applicant’s race, sex, ethnicity, age, or disability. Rightly or wrongly, in a quest to make the best possible hiring decision that will serve the organization in the long term, decision makers often go beyond applications and resumes in an effort to discern the illusive personal chemistry, fit or style that is perceived as necessary to succeed in the open position. But once the decision maker has learned or seen that the applicant is in a protected class, the ugly prospect of discrimination arises. So what’s an employer to do? The safest and most conservative policy an employer can adopt is to prohibit the use of social media during the hiring process altogether. This approach seems pretty impractical, though, since the proliferation of electronic technology will continue to develop and adopting such a policy is likely to put the employer at a disadvantage in the competition for the best people with the best skills. Instead, by adopting the following best practices, an employer can use social media for the advantages that it holds and, at the same time, mitigate the risk of liability. Sourcing Job postings on sites such as LinkedIn, Craigslist, and Monster.com should be combined with traditional forms of advertising and recruiting to better assure that the widest net is cast in the sourcing of applicants. Screening DO: Use an application form that includes an acknowledgement and consent informing the applicant about accessing social media. DO: Create a disciplined process and then follow it consistently. DO: Keep the focus on the applicant’s professional qualifications and experience. Period. DO: Limit the review of social media sites to just the public areas of such sites. DO: Base decisions ONLY on lawful criteria and job requirements. DO: Keep copies and records (for at least 1 year) about the social media sites accessed for each candidate if the employer is subject to DOL/OFCCP affirmative action planning and reporting. DO: Consider using a professional and qualified third-party screening company to help insulate inappropriate information from the decision maker. DON’T: Change the process- or the social media sites accessed- from applicant to applicant. DON’T: Link, connect or friend with an applicant. DON”T: Do anything with information gained from social media sources that the employer would or wouldn’t do if the information was gained from other sources. While this list is certainly non-exhaustive, implementing these practices into your hiring procedures and applying them consistently to every applicant can help protect your company if charged with claims of discriminatory hiring practices.

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Kerri Forsythe

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