Why Facebook searches on job hunters should be banned

Paul Deakin , 24 Aug 2011


Facebook has been no stranger to debates over privacy over the last few years.

In fact, the king of social media sites has been at the centre of a number of protests from users complaining about the perceived lack of protection afforded by Facebook's own privacy policy.

As use of the site and similar social media channels continues to grow, and we place more and more information about ourselves online, the social media and privacy debate continues to gather momentum.

In the world of HR and recruitment, there have been discussions around the use of pre-employment social media searches and how these can have a negative impact on the recruitment process.

Having considered this issue, we strongly recommend that employers and HR professionals ban pre-hire searches of job applicants via social media sites such as Facebook, and that they adopt considered approaches to the use of professional sites such as LinkedIn.

There are clearly legitimate benefits to be had from using sites such as LinkedIn both from the recruiter and job hunter's perspective as they offer an ideal platform for professional networking.

But when it comes to Facebook, there are a number of reasons for pushing it to be banned during the pre-hire stages, mainly relating to the risk that such searches could reduce the level of objectivity of recruitment processes.

For example, if a photo or video from a party is found on a candidate's profile, showing the person behaving in a way that may reflect badly on their professional image, the searcher will be left with an impression that cannot easily be undone, making it difficult to discard the information in order to adopt an entirely objective and fair recruitment process.

In many cases it is very easy to simply 'do a quick Facebook search' on a person, which can make it even more of a temptation. OPP's own research into social media and recruitment found 56% of people would be likely to check out a potential employee's online profile before interviewing them.

However, almost 30% of respondents stated they would be uncomfortable if the boot was on the other foot and an interviewer had searched for them online pre-interview.

Our research found just 10% of people were not at all concerned about their level of privacy when adding information to social networking sites, leading us to call for candidates to lock down their privacy settings so they do not leave themselves 'open' for all to see.

So, why is it that social media searches have 'fallen between the cracks' when so much work has been done by HR professionals to ensure that candidate assessments are conducted to a rigorously fair and high standard?

Social media use in recruitment may be thought of as being unconstrained by normal best practice guidelines because the medium is different, and so many think it is an acceptable means of sourcing information on a job seeker. However, social media searches should be considered in the same way as any other method of screening, and judged against the same criteria of fairness, validity, and reliability.

By their very nature, social networking sites are not naturally respectful of privacy, reputation and control which is something both HR professionals and job applicants should take into account.

Paul Deakin is senior research & development consultant at OPP

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its a moral question.

Utty 26 Aug 2011

this is possibly a viable option, but i would approach this with some trepidation. The reason being that one of the reasons why this topic will continue to be contentious, is that it clashes with the concept of public information and the freedom to access such information. That access poses a decision that appears to be more morally inclined, than practice: "is it right to use information that was not "willingly" or "knowingly" given, but yet is readily accessible?". And it is troubling that there is no uniform agreement as to what the answer should be. As a recruiter, using pictures on facebook to make a decision about a candidate, is like looking through someone underwear drawer to make a hiring decision! In 2010 Stepstone reported that 64% of the HR professionals they surveyed felt this was appropriate to do a and 41% had rejected candidates after doing a facebook and online check! Clearly I am in the minority!! This debate will not end, not until the moral question is answered for what it is, for this is not a practice question (after all there are a few companies that use astrological signs to recruit!); its a moral one.

Why are people afraid?

Bernie 26 Aug 2011

What's wrong with an employer checking “all” sources of information for a potential employee? People freely put information on line for everyone to see. Now because some are afraid they may have made personal information public that may separate them from values of a company they are applying to; they try to make a safe haven for their alter personality. Sorry it doesn’t work like that. Think about the old saying: Don’t say or show anything in public you wouldn’t want your mother to see. People who live by this rule will be rewarded and the others show they can’t really be trusted. This is a “values” issue and an employer has a right to evaluate if a potential employee has the same values the company has and the potential employee portrays during an interview; all arguments aside.

Curiosity will prevail

Bonnie Parrish-Kell 30 Aug 2011

If potential employers are to be banned from using social networks to pre-screen or research possible employees, then it only makes sense that the reverse be true too. That, of course, doesn't make sense. Both employer and candidate want to ensure the best fit possible. How many of us found ourselves in what looking to be a promising job only to soon find out that it just won't work. Ditto for the hiring manager! Even if we opted out of participating in any social networking platforms, our names and pictures will still pop up somewhere, somehow on the Web - like it or not. (And I'm not exactly keen on how I look in triathlon racewear!).

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