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The advent of social media has added a number of new dimensions to the hiring process. In the (fairly recent) old days, candidate screening was limited to formal background and credit checks. A more involved on-boarding process might include a drug test, but things rarely got more complicated. Today, things are different. It's time for employers to decide what policies they'll put in place to introduce social media into their recruiting and hiring processes.

Candidates are aware that their social media presence can affect their job prospects. According to an MRINetwork study, nearly half of job seekers believe their digital footprint is "important" or "very important" to prospective employers. MRINetwork's Marketing Manager, Patrick Convery remarks, "They are aware that employers can now learn a lot about them prior to meeting with them, or even before contacting them, as they seek out candidates who have the skills and personalities that will be beneficial to their organizations." He continues, "Consequently, many jobs seekers are putting more of their social media profiles on private, or even setting up separate professional profiles, so their information can't be shared with the public."

Many employers casually review the social media profiles of their candidates, but a growing percentage are beginning to formalize the process. According to the same MRINetwork survey, 18% have already done so, and additional 17% are considering doing the same in the future.

What are they looking for?

Ideally, they'd like to learn something about the candidate that they can't determine from a resume. Social media is - obviously - an effective window into someone's social life. It can prove especially illuminating about questionable decisions. 39% of hiring managers say this kind of content is the number one thing they look for.

They're also interested in confirming that a resume is accurate. In Convery's words, "LinkedIn and Facebook users typically add their place of work, the college they graduated from, their hometown, and where they're currently living. Prospective employers can check this information to be sure that the candidate's resume is lining up correctly with their profile information."

Not everyone, however, updates their social media profiles regularly. In many cases, a LinkedIn profile provides an incomplete picture of an applicant's current situation. Some don't have any social media presence to speak of. As employers look to vet their candidates, they might ignore someone promising simply because the individual isn't on social media. Convery adds, "If social network users have their profiles set to private, as is becoming more common after recent breaches in security, this means they don't want the world seeing what they post, which results in the absence of the kind of data employers are looking for to screen job applicants."

Employers can also run into legal troubles as they assess social media. Hiring managers need to remain cognizant of the particular types of information they're using to assess candidates. According to the Chicago Tribune, a candidate's race and gender are protected legally. These can't be taken into account during the hiring process. It's essential that organizations not let conscious or unconscious bias come into play as a result of social media. If a hiring manager discovers any of a candidate's protected characteristics through social media, it is not advised they share this information with their team.

If your company reviews social media, it's important to establish a policy that clearly outlines when online searches should and should not factor into hiring decisions. "By identifying positions for which searches are an important element of the process, you can develop a standard approach for how these searches will be conducted and how the information will be used," says Anne Hayden, MRINetwork's VP of Human Resources.

Hayden suggests incorporating a policy that includes the following components:

  • Clarity - The rationale for these searches should be clear.
  • Transparency - Both employees and applicants should know how and why these searches are conducted. 
  • Consistency - Searches should be conducted in the same way by the same individuals.
  • Openness  - All relevant parties should understand the impact these findings could have.
Hayden concludes, "When done correctly - and legally - looking at a candidate's personal profile can be a great hiring tool, but you will still gather the best insights from a personal interview. Asking the right questions and encouraging an honest dialogue can help you get to know a candidate better than their latest post on Instagram and prevent you from passing up a great new employee." 

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