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Is your net rep on form?

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Using social networking sites when recruiting

With the rise in social networking sites comes greater temptation for recruiters to find out about candidates online before considering their profile on paper. Louise Druce asks whether you should base applications on hype rather than type?


It goes without saying that you want to knock the socks off your potential employer at a job interview – for the right reasons. The last thing you want is for your hopeful new boss to listen to your speech about being a hardworking, considerate and consummate professional, when they have already seen those compromising photos on your Facebook page at a client’s Christmas party.

This may sound like an extreme scenario but with the explosion of people logging on to social networking sites, and giving little regard to what is being posted on their site, don’t be surprised if recruiters have done a quick Google search to see if your credentials really match up to what you have stated on your application form.

Protect your net rep

  • A blog is for life – remember you risk leaving a permanent electronic footprint. If you think you won’t want it to exist somewhere in 10 years’ time, don’t post it.
  • Privacy is precious – choose sites that give you plenty of control over who can find your profile and how much information they can see. Read privacy policies and understand how sites will use your details.
  • Personal safety first – don’t allow people to work out your ‘real life’ location, e.g. your place and hours of work. Your personal safety offline could be affected by what you tell people online.
  • Password protected – change passwords regularly. Don’t use obvious words like your pet’s name and don’t use the same passwords on social networking sites as you do for things like internet banking.
  • Address aware – use a separate email address for social networking.
  • Source: ICO

    There are ethical and legal reasons why employers should be cautious about using this method when recruiting, but sometimes temptation proves too much. Of nearly 600 managers and directors responsible for recruitment surveyed by social network Viadeo, 59 per cent admitted to finding information about a candidate on the web that impacted their decision about them, and 15 per cent actually rejected a candidate based on what they had found out – this increased to 25 per cent among HR managers.

    Among the reasons why some people were instantly disregarded included signs of excessive alcohol abuse and disrespect for the job, and discovering they had lied on the application form or were into activities that ‘didn’t fit” with the company. There was even a candidate outed as being wanted by the local police.

    And it seems regular bloggers are also starting to have a conscience about what they post. A separate poll by the Information Commissioner’s Office found that as many as 4.5 million young people would not want a college, university or potential employer to conduct an internet search on them unless they could first remove content from social networking sites.

    “When recruiting, there is clearly temptation for managers to have access to a potential resource to get really in-depth information about the people on the forms in front of them; but they could be setting themselves up for something dangerous,” warns John Wood, new media officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

    “If they are able to pull up more information on some people and not others, it may be an advantage or a disadvantage. More dangerously for the company, it might leave them open to discrimination laws. We’re concerned that employers know what they’re getting into.”

    Can you save face?

    There’s no escaping the fact that social networking sites have been receiving a lot of negative press in recent months. Aside from recruitment issues, concerns about identity fraud and loss of productivity among staff who are logging on to social networking sites at every opportune moment have dominated most of the scare stories. So should employers be looking at a blanket ban on networking sites?

    Arguably, the whole idea of social networking is word of mouth and nothing can beat spreading positive press. While Ernst and Young, one of the largest professional services organisations in the world, doesn’t use social networking sites to screen candidates – as Richard Jordan, head of employer brand, points out – it would be impossible to vet every one of the 3,000 or so people it employs every year in the UK; so it is using Facebook as one outlet to get its message out there as an employer to a much wider and diverse audience.

    Jordan says its among a number of ways the company has ‘conversations’ with potential candidates and reflects the nature of how its own employees regard the use of social sites. “Ernst and Young is one of the top five corporate groups using Facebook globally, with around 14,000 users,” he highlights.

    When it comes to recruitment advertising, he adds: “It helps us to have a conversation with people in the way that works best for them. If we have candidates who are used to receiving information from a social means, in a timely environment, let us have a conversation with them on their terms. It is about making Ernst and Young as accessible to them as possible.”

    And when it comes to the potential to put candidates off through venomous blogging from disgruntled employees, Jordan isn’t fazed. “We have policies in place to prevent misuse of the firm’s systems,” he says. “The same policy that would cover an employee sending an email to a newspaper, for example, covers their use of Facebook. We trust our people to use their time in a way that works for them, our clients and the firm. The concept of us owning our employees’ time isn’t how we look at it. People are not a cog in a machine. What we’re selling is our people. If they have a level of control in how they work, they are more likely to be engaged and happy.”

    “Employers are getting worried by all the hype there is around social networking at the moment, which is mostly unhelpful. They need to get thicker skins.”

    John Wood, new media officer, TUC

    Sticks and stones

    Of course, not all companies are so lucky. A quick Google search reveals plenty of stories about staff being fired for posting disparaging comments about their firm, something that may make you think twice about wanting to actively apply to sit next to such colleagues in the workplace. Then again, before social networking came along, hands up who has been guilty of slagging off their workplace at some point, simply to let off steam. It boils down to acceptable – and lawful – boundaries. Sometimes you just have to take what people post with a large pinch of salt.

    “You don’t want your staff breaking commercial confidentiality or bringing the organisation into disrepute but people can do that online or offline,” says Wood. “Employers are getting worried by all the hype there is around social networking at the moment, which is mostly unhelpful. They need to get thicker skins.

    “An employer does want to take action where their business has been compromised but at the same time, there is no point tying yourself up in knots if an employee is sounding off to friends.”

    Like Jordan, he feels social networking can be a great way to spread the word about a company being a good place to work and allow staff to be ambassadors by recommending roles to friends and associates. But when it comes to finding relatively anonymous potential candidates, just be wary how much you think you know about them without having ever met them.

    “People can only be one person. It is much easier to identify people and that is an issue employers and employees are going to have to deal with,” Wood adds. “It is such a minefield; think very carefully before you get into something like that. It may not be the best way.”

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