17 October 2013

Is Social Media A Fair Or Even Relevant Indication Of An Applicant's Suitability?


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Recruitment and retention


Social media is very rarely an accurate representation of an individual’s life as a whole. There are those with too much time on their hands who feel that the world should know every time they make a coffee, but as a general rule, we share what we believe others will find interesting and, in turn, make us look interesting. Even celebrities pick and choose what to share – the interesting, important or funny updates are what make it into a feed, the bits where they sit around eating breakfast generally get left out. It’s a fact that what counts as ‘interesting’ these days are the more extreme elements of our lives.

Until recently, people weren’t thinking about their personal brand and how to maintain a saintly online presence; No-one had to be careful, companies didn’t (or were less likely to) check applicant’s online personas using social media – With this in mind, why would anyone feel that these updates are a true representation of someones ability to perform within a professional environment?!

However, this has quickly turned around and now 92% of companies use social media for recruiting, and 1 in 3 managers have rejected an applicant based on their social media profile.

N.B. The article below should not be confused with Social Recruitment, I am talking purely about companies screening applicants based on their social profiles and not the process of engaging with prospective employees through social media or other social channels.

People share online for a variety of reasons, including 20% who share “to let others know what I’m doing”, 20% “to add to a thread or conversation” and 11% say they share on social media “to show I’m in the know”.

So, why else do people share information and updates on social media? Of those surveyed the top reasons are:

  • To share interesting information
  • To share important news and information
  • To share humorous stories and news
  • To strengthen a personal brand
  • To recommend a product/service
  • To add support to a cause
  • Only 22% of people share updates simply to inform others of what they are doing

With the above in mind, it’s clear that the majority of social media users share information that doesn’t relate to them specifically. When people do share information about themselves, it’s usually what they believe others want to read, which are the cherry-picked updates that we all hope make our lives look more exciting, interesting and idealistic to others. Of course, most people have images and updates of when they have attended parties or nights out – who hasn’t?! Personally, I would be a bit wary of anyone that doesn’t ever let their hair down and unwind!

Much of the information that is available on social media is irrelevant to the recruitment process and shouldn’t really be of concern to a recruitment team. What matters is the applicant’s ability to do the job, for which a CV will have all of the relevant details. The personality of an applicant can be assessed, in person, at the interview. If the recruitment team must go online to carry out research, the only site they should need look at is LinkedIn (the professional network).

Social scoring

It’s already been reported that certain US companies are using ‘social scores’, calculated by a single company, to assess an applicant based on social influence – this is ridiculous, given that the individual social score is based on one company’s algorithm and opinion of what they believe constitutes social influence. These companies have yet to prove their accuracy and for every positive article regarding social scoring, there’s another detailing why it’s inaccurate and unfair (even from those authors with very high scores).

Should we be more careful?

On the flip side of the argument, is it now naive to think that anything which we ‘publish’ online is private? Should we all live our digital lives even more cautiously than our physical lives? Probably – there’s no audit trail of our actions in the real world. After all, in real life, unless you’re a celebrity there are only a finite number of people who get to know about your successes or mistakes – online, that number is countless and unforgiving. If you publicly insult your employers or share company confidential information, then you’re asking for trouble. Any sensible individual would know not to do this.

Due to the fact everything online is recorded, what we say, every photo we upload and every comment we make, there’s a huge amount of data that can quickly come back to haunt us if we’re not careful. It’s unrealistic to assume that we can control this content 100%, but living by the same rules that we do in real life is a good start. Never say anything online that you’re not happy to say in real life.

Will gaming the system begin to become more prominent? Could we see businesses popping up, offering a complete, ready-made online profile, which may in fact be completely inaccurate (but what companies want to see in an applicant)? If the pressure remains (or even grows) regarding online profiles then the demand for a quick solution will definitely start to attract such strategies.

With the ever-increasing use of the internet and shared information, we seem to be blurring the lines between our working and social lives, when the two should remain very separate. People go to work to work, and go home to socialise and live their lives, this shouldn’t be held against them when applying for a position. It seems as if what we do online is becoming the most important benchmark of who we are and how suitable we are for certain positions, even eclipsing who we are in the REAL world.

What can be done?

The easiest way to manage what people see and how you interact online is to lock down all the social sites that you are a member of, apart from LinkedIn. As the predominant professional network, this is where recruiters and future employers ‘should’ be looking for information relating to your professional life, and if this is the only ‘open’ network then you can shepherd them to the site.

What do you think? Is social media a fair way to assess an applicant’s suitability for a role or whether they’ll fit a company culture? Have you had any experience of what’s mentioned in the above? Let me know if the comments below.