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Do employers discriminate against candidates during the hiring process base on an observation on their social media profile/s

Do employers discriminate against candidates during the hiring process base on an observation on their social media profile/s?December 2009

Researched and written by Aylin Ahmet

The Internet has opened up a whole new way of networking for candidates but has it given employers another opening to indirectly discriminate against candidates during the hiring process?

This research paper will investigate how social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are being used to search on candidates and discuss the invasion of privacy using this information to discriminate against candidates during the hiring process. Social networks are not just for socialising anymore, they are now being used as a job search and research tool for recruiters and employers. The research paper will uncover concerns with accessing potential employees social profile information without permission and using this to assess their suitability for a position with the organisation.

Over the past 20 years the recruitment environment has evolved significantly; from an era of newspaper advertising and hard copy resumes to a recruiting environment enabled by technology and the internet with social networks capturing the attention of millions globally. Recruiting has always been about networking and the more people you know, the easier it becomes to hire the internet is now the enabler, connecting people on a social and professional level. Job seekers are realising the usefulness of these sites to find jobs, keep abreast of career opportunities and research possible employers. On the flipside, employers can just as easily research candidates through their online social networking sites. There are literally thousands of recruiters searching for passive talent on social networking sites those who are employed and not actively seeking a new position as well as job seekers who are leveraging off these networks to find available positions (Schawbel, 2009).Since social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter began it has allowed organisations to create profiles, become active members and start to incorporate these strategies into their public relations programmes (Watersa et all, 2008). More broadly, employers are using these networking sites to reach a large demographic audience for wider business reasons such as employment branding, help launch products, communicate with customers and increase sales. If potential employers are examining a candidates online social networking profile/s as research suggests they are, would they consider that information during the hiring process? What if a potential employer saw a picture of a woman or a man consuming alcohol? Or if they saw a picture of a female applicant who happened to be pregnant? What about a candidate using discriminatory/racist language on their profile page? Will this information negatively influence their opinion of the candidate?

Social networks are online communities that link members based on mutual interests. Members often create a personalised profile, and connect with others via discussion and special interest groups. The term social media referring to blogs and social network sites online have been steering a change allowing worldwide, networked communication instantaneously (Wikipedia, 2009). Such media describes the online practices that utilise technology and enable people to share content, opinions, experiences, insights, and media themselves. Any contribution an individual has made on an online profile can lead to a prospective employer locating that information and using it when assessing suitability for an applied position.

The huge number of social networking users makes these sites extremely attractive to recruiters as possible sources of hire and to hiring managers who want to learn more about potential hires. The issue arises when a prospective employer can search on candidates and potentially discriminate based on an observation, such as a profile image of a same sex couple, a pregnant women or a young family with children.In a social recruitment survey conducted by online recruiter Jobvite, 68% of 115 small- and medium-sized businesses use social networking to support recruitment efforts (Jobvite, 2009). Statistics are indicating that more organisations and recruiters are researching candidates on their social online profiles. A study conducted by CareerBuilder surveying 3,169 hiring managers found that 22% screened job seekers using social networking sites (CareerBuilder, 2009).

For the purpose of the research paper, the social networking sites that will be referred to are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is a social networking site, allowing members to create a profile the focuses on more personal matters such as family, celebrations, events and hobbies. Twitter is a free micro-blogging tools that allows users to send short messages out to their followers answering the Twitter question of What are you doing?. LinkedIn is a professional networking tool that allows you to connect with other professionals around the world.

Members use Facebook to communicate with friends and share personal information about their lives with over 350+ million active users globally registered on Facebook (Graves, 2009). Facebook is the largest social networking tool and is home to both corporate recruiters and head-hunters, who tend to use it more for background checks than for recruiting, according to (Schawbel, 2009). In fact, Careerbuilder research found that one in five recruiters uses Facebook for candidate background checks. According to a Facebook Demographics Statistics Report, the number of Facebook users ages 35 to 54 grew by 276% in the last six months of 2008 (iStrategyLabs, 2009). Twitter is a more recent addition to the social networking phenomenon and emerged through the tragic event of the plane crash of U.S. Airways flight into the Hudson River earlier this year with the breaking news released from a Twitter message of a passenger onboard (Tsoulis-Reay 2009). Twitter members can post links to articles, pictures or videos of topics of interest. LinkedIn however targets professionals and allows members to create a profile that describes their professional background facilitating connection and communication with other professionals. If an employer must review job seeker information on social networks, LinkedIn may be a slightly safer choice as its designed as a professional social networking site. Its purpose and content is oriented toward professional, job-related information and contains minimal personal information (Berkshire J, 2005). Social networking sites extend beyond Generation Y usage, currently, more than 26 million users (average age: 41), and more than 600,000 small business owners are logged on to LinkedIn alone (Peopleclick Research Institute, 2009).

Tredinnick (2006) defines social networking sites as those sites driven by user-participation and user-generated content. Having an online social media presence doesnt necessarily mean it will be harmful to the individual if a prospective employer was to search on their profile site. Results from the CareerBuilder survey found that out of the 3,169 hiring managers surveyed, that 24% have used the information to confirm their decision to hire a candidate (CareerBuilder, 2009). Generally, a candidates contribution through these online mediums can show an individuals understanding, intellect and outlook which can be advantageous in their job application. Social media applications provide a variety of ways for users to become involved with organisations. Recruiters can gain a better understanding of an individual based on a blog they may write, compared to a resume that has the same standard fields, such as experience and education (Schawbel, 2009). With one click, hiring managers can identify a job applicant's voice and thoughts as well as how he or she may fit into an organisation's culture and the specific role that needs to be filled. By using these social networking sites a candidate has many outlets to build on their personal brand and potentially find a job faster than other candidates in the market.

Generally, during a standard hiring process, recruiters/employers refer to a candidates resume, interview, background, reference checks and other relevant behavioural/technical tests to determine a candidates skill set and suitability for a new position. This hasnt changed. However, as the process of recruiting is evolving with the introduction of social recruiting referring to an employer using social media as part of their recruitment strategy (Inspecht, 2009); employers now have access to many online tools with the ability to search on a candidates online profiles publicly. A recent survey by Jobvite reflects this evolution in recruitment, noting that 72% of companies plan to invest more in recruiting through social networks (Jobvite, 2009). Of those surveyed who plan to invest more into social media recruiting, LinkedIn is the most popular networking tool (95 percent), followed by Facebook (59 percent) and Twitter (42 percent) (HR Wire, 2009). The percentage of employers using Facebook rose by almost two-thirds between 2008 and 2009. Through a candidate social media site a recruiter may make a decision to terminate a candidates progression in the hiring process, research indicates that 34% of hiring managers from the CareerBuilder study have used what they learned on these social networking sites to reject a candidate (CareerBuilder, 2009).

With a down turned economy, high unemployment and thousands of baby boomers retiring, the labour market is undoubtedly going to change and organisations have to adapt to ensure they continue to find the best talent in the marke


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