Should employers vet the social media accounts of potential employees?


Last month Kent police’s youth police and crime commissioner, Paris Brown, was pressured into stepping down a week after being hired. The reason: the 17-year-old had tweeted homophobic and racist remarks before she landed the job. The police admitted they had not vetted social media during her recruitment. This highlights a growing issue for many employers. Do you think organisations should vet the social media accounts of potential employees, or can this lead to discrimination?

HR magazine asked two HR directors for their views. Last week Stella Cheetham, HR director at Dimensions (a charity that supports people with autism and learning disabilities) gave her opinion. Today it's the turn of interim HRD and managing director of Zenon HR consulting, Julia Tybura (pictured).

As a newish member of the 'Twitterati' and HR director, I viewed this story with interest. Apart from thinking the police and media over-reacted (calling in Special Branch to interview her) and bullied a 17-year-old girl, I offer some strong feelings.

I have spent most of my career with public sector organisations. I adhere to the seven Nolan Principles of Public Life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, honesty, accountability, openness, and leadership. Did Paris Brown know about these principles? Was she briefed as part of her recruitment and induction processes?

When we select recruits we all 'check out' people. It might be through our contacts or what our 'gut feeling' is when we meet them. In a US study last year, 37% of companies admitted they use social networks to screen candidates, some even asking for passwords to social media sites during interviews. Why? To see if the candidates present themselves professionally - and 34% of those companies found reasons for not appointing.

Selection tools and techniques - graphology, phrenology, psychometrics, social media analysis - how valid are any of them if they are not viewed as highly subjective, as they are? They need to be triangulated and viewed pragmatically.

So, what should you do if you are looking for a job, or selecting someone? Assume everything on Twitter is in the public domain.

I use it as a thought leadership, networking and reputation management tool. I also use it as a selection tool for who can support me and who I can support and work with, and most importantly, who I can have some 'serious fun' with in work. I won't be asking people for their passwords, but I will be using social media analysis in my selection processes, while upholding the Nolan Principles of Public Life.