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Recruitment and hiring processes, particularly in the public sector, are subject to federal and state laws, civil service rules and regulations, affirmative action regulations and in some cases labor bargaining group agreements.  For all its convenience and benefits, social media recruiting still needs to be respectful of, and compliant with, these frameworks.

Avoiding unlawful practices, challenges to, or invalidation of any recruitment and hiring processes which utilize the internet or social media requires little more than insuring that behavior already in place is not disregarded.

H.R. recruiters in the digital age must guard against being seduced by the ease and convenience of online and social media recruiting tools. Social media should still be part of a comprehensive recruiting strategy, and tools like social media profile reviews should not eliminate other helpful screening and assessment techniques such as assessment centers, psychometric testing, and other practical exercises. 

Though less likely to be exclusionary, Human Resource Managers should still be circumspect with regard to which social media sites to use for advertizing their jobs.  An abundance of demographic and usage data exists for all of the major social media platforms.  This includes not only who is accessing their sites, but through what portals, on which devices, how often and at what times.  This information should be collected and utilized to insure your job postings reach their intended audience and are inclusive with respect to meeting legal requirements and other hiring objectives.

A more pressing concern with respect to the intersection of job recruiting and social media relates to the wealth of personal profile information available online. Much of this content may be of the protected variety and employers have long since taken great pains to purge the collection of such information from their job applications.  Perhaps as a result, SHRM reports (2016) that 46% of their survey respondents who did not use social media in their recruitments did so as a result of concerns about discovering protected candidate information on line. This reluctance is waning (down from 74% in 2013) but is still significant; however Human Resource recruiters should take precautions to prevent exposing themselves to protected information.

If Human Resource Managers are becoming more comfortable with their ability to avoid protected information on social media during the recruitment phase, the same seems to be true of their willingness to navigate the even thornier purview of applicant background screenings. When it comes to screening applicants with the assistance of social media, SHRM reported that 43% did so in 2016, compared to only 22% in 2013. Clearly, there is a growing belief that information included in candidates’ social media profiles can have a bearing on work performance.  To that point, over one-third of SHRM respondents in 2016 reported having disqualified a job candidate during the prior year because of worrisome information (i.e. illegal conduct or discrepancy with application) found on their social media profile or through other online searches.

Notwithstanding that many social media website profiles are visible to the general public, it is always advisable to inform candidates that social media screening may (or will) occur, and to obtain written consent. Most HR managers wisely prohibit their staff from requesting and using an applicant’s password or other privacy credentials. The fundamental guideline with information obtained online, as with any other source of candidate information, is that it should only be used in connection with its likelihood to affect job performance.

The best defense against any risk associated with using social media or other online tools in an organization’s recruitment and hiring process is:  sound written policy; training; legal review; security and privacy measures; and supervisory oversight.

Not so much a risk as a concern when using social media is the potential for being inundated with such a high volume of applicants that HR staff becomes overwhelmed and processing bottlenecks occur.  Practices can be employed to guard against these circumstances.  These measures may include:  clear and well written job descriptions and minimum qualifications; self-screening tools; employment applications designed to facilitate rapid review; limiting the number of social media sites used; and compressing application filing periods.

Finally, the instantaneity and global reach of digital postings demand that your agency monitor closely all communications identified with your agency and be prepared to act quickly, within your legal authority, to minimize damage.  Mistakes that linger have the potential to wreak havoc, particularly as it relates to the release of private information.  Contingency plans for how to handle these incidents should be included in your agency’s internet and social media policy manual and should be the subject of ongoing training.

Social Media Recruiting Guiding Principles

  • Comply with all recruitment regulations, policies and protocol applicable to traditional recruitment methods
  • Take special precautions to avoid exposure to protected applicant information.
  • When used during background screening, use only information which may have a bearing on candidate’s ability to perform the job.
  • Inform candidates regarding the agency’s intent to access the Internet and/or non-password-protected social media sites.
  • Take time to learn about each social media site under consideration to insure meeting recruitment objectives.
  • Develop, distribute, train and supervise the use of an agency Social Media Recruitment Policy.
  • Incorporate Social Media job recruiting as just one element of a comprehensive recruitment

“The best defense against any risk associated with using social media or other online tools in an organization’s recruitment and hiring process is: sound written policy; training; legal review; security and privacy measures; and supervisory oversight.”

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