Proceed with caution when using social media to recruit new talent

Why you should proceed with caution when using social media to recruit new talent

Time was, not so long ago that a job seeker could choose which aspects of their experience, interests and personality they wanted to reveal on a job application. For the employer this meant wheedling out the right candidates from a pile of written applications, then using the interview process to determine whether the applicant measured up to their requirements. Today, social media not only makes it easier for employers to reach a much wider universe of candidates – it also gives them the opportunity if they choose, to screen potential employees, and this is where legally, ethically and practically, new largely uncharted problems lie.

New research carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) for employment expert Acas, looks at how and why employers use social media when recruiting staff and the implications for the workplace, including the benefits and risks. It’s no surprise the research found the use of social media to recruit new talent is increasing – but of much greater significance is the widely different approaches taken by employers towards utilising online data to find and vet potential employers.

While on the whole, the case study organisations in the research tended to restrict their use of social media to the initial recruitment stage, rather than using it to gain additional information in order to screen and shortlist candidates, this was not due to an overt recognition of the potential risks of discrimination or invasion of privacy, but rather that there was no time to do this, or that information gleaned from Facebook would not be relevant.

Attitudes towards the screening process also differ widely. Retailer Pets at Home for example used neither Facebook nor LinkedIn to search for further information about job applicants believing that this is was not necessary or relevant. By contrast security firm G4S took the view that accessing any information that is published by applicants themselves and is freely accessible online is acceptable, and so includes accessing information via candidates’ Facebook profiles as part of the recruitment process.

Anne Sharp, Acas Chief Executive, cautions: “Organisations are getting more sophisticated about using social media when recruiting new employees. Employers should not be afraid to use these tools, but they need to consider the potential issues.

“For example, increasing the use of social media will require employers to think more strategically about their whole recruitment process and the extent to which it is appropriate and relevant to seek information about a potential employee’s private life as part of a fair process.”

The research, which included a poll of 400 HR decision makers, a literature review and three case studies also found that:

  • Forty-five per cent of HR decision makers said they were already using social media tools in recruitment and 16 per cent said they were planning to in future.
  • Around 40 per cent said they would make greater use of them in the future.
  • Social media tools are often used as well as traditional recruitment strategies.  
  • There are a range of ways in which social media is used in the recruitment process including searching for potential candidates online and ‘screening’ candidates by viewing their social media profiles.
  • The main reasons for not using social media were a preference for more traditional forms of recruitment and concerns over privacy.

Acas has launched the first guide of its kind on How to handle social media in the workplace which, as this research illustrates should be essential reading for any employer (or indeed employee) on how to navigate this so far largely uncharted territory.