Searching for candidates in the age of social networking

If your organization is using social networking sites to search for potential job candidates, it is not alone. Social networking sites have become an increasingly popular recruitment and screening tool because of the ease and efficiency they allow for finding new talent. However, in the absence of an existing evidence-based model for using social networking sites, organizations must find a way to balance the risks and rewards as research catches up to practice.

Recent surveys tell us that LinkedIn is the most frequently used social networking site for recruiting and screening potential candidates. Perhaps this is because LinkedIn was developed for professional networking purposes and offers the most structure and consistency in what and how potential candidate information is presented. The challenge, however, is that depending on the job, both relevant and non-relevant information can be found on LinkedIn.

Smart Business spoke with Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about the effective use of social media for hiring.

How are organizations using social networking sites to reap the most rewards?

Many organizations are using social networking sites to search for passive candidates who possess a specific skill set, which may be difficult to find. For example, an organization may be interested in finding bilingual candidates with leadership skills, or candidates with a background in health care and management. Other uses include looking for active job seekers, posting job information, or participating in discussions to spur interest in the organization and increase employer brand. Most often, organizations seek out individuals to fill salaried mid- to upper-level management or director positions.

What guidelines should organizations follow to minimize legal risks?

The structure and consistency offered by LinkedIn is a substantial advantage over sites such as Facebook and Twitter that do not allow for a highly disciplined approach to the use of available information. Structure and consistency lead to higher validity and help ensure organizations are meeting the professional and legal guidelines that have been in place since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

While the use of social networking sites for screening purposes is relatively new, the potential pitfalls associated with this approach are not. The guidelines that apply to the use of the standard resume and application blank, for example, apply to the use of social networking sites. In fact, LinkedIn has been described as a new version of the traditional application blank. Problems arise when organizations use LinkedIn or other social networking sites haphazardly, without a formal policy or concern for professional and legal guidelines. Most importantly, organizations must ensure the use of job relevant information about potential candidates by focusing their search on the requirements of the job based on a recent job analysis. Information that may discriminate against protected groups or that is not job relevant must be avoided (e.g., photographs, age, personal information, etc.).

How can the use of social networking sites positively and negatively affect an organization’s pool of potential candidates?

Organizations are looking to social networking sites to expand the population of high potential candidates, particularly when organizations demand a specific skill set that may be in high demand by employers. Some of the most talented individuals can be found on social networking sites, and their identities are just a few clicks away. However, research tells us that social networking sites do not adequately represent the true population of potential candidates. That is, fewer Hispanics and African-Americans use social networking sites. This means that relying exclusively on social networking sites to search for potential candidates is not effective for increasing employee diversity and ensuring that minorities have a fair chance of being selected. This puts organizations at risk for discrimination lawsuits. Organizations can avoid this potential pitfall by including other methods to source candidates, such as job boards, job fairs and magazines. More specifically, methods that have a higher chance of targeting minority groups can be selected to widen the demographic representation of potential candidates.

Why should organizations create social networking policies to screen job candidates?

Surveys suggest that more than half of all organizations using social networking sites to screen job candidates do not have a formal policy for doing so and do not intend to create one in the near future. If one of the goals is to ensure social networking sites are used according to professional and legal guidelines in a consistent and fair manner that leads to the identification of job relevant information, a policy to describe those guidelines to the users of social networking sites is a must. An EEOC or OFCCP audit should not come as a surprise to organizations; organizations must be prepared to support their recruitment and selection procedures in advance of a potential discrimination lawsuit, regardless of whether that procedure involves social networking sites or not.

Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, is an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at [email protected].

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