Every couple of weeks I come across some sort of article or opinion piece about whether or not HR departments should use social media sites when recruiting or selecting candidates. The articles usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Of course you should, dummy! Any data is good data. How can you pass this up?
  • Using social media data is a one-way ticket to court and is immoral! Every bias companies have is out there and you’ll be discriminating against people, whether you want to or not.

The latest one that caught my eye was definitely in the second category. Not surprisingly, the author uncovered research data that showed that certain information found on social media would bias employers. Sort of like everything we know about how information about race, age, gender, religion, etc in resumes and interviews leads to bias. No surprises here.

People who think all social media information should be ignored seem to have this idea that HR departments spend a lot of time snooping candidates’ social media. Maybe some do, even if to check work history on LinkedIn, but that attitude strikes me as paranoid.

We do know that social media activity does correlate with personality traits which are predictive of job performance, so there is likely some valid data out there. My biggest issue with using social media to recruit or make selections is the self-selection bias. Not everyone uses social media or uses it in the same way. So, while there might be predictive information within a sample of candidates (those active on social media), it is less reliable for the population of candidates (everyone you may be interested in, whether or not they are active on social media).

As with any selection tool, you’ll want to make the playing field level. If you want to read about candidates’ business history, let them know that you’ll be taking a look at their profiles, connections, etc on LinkedIn (where they’ll have their “professional” face on). If I’m hiring for a programmer, you can bet that I would be interested in the open source code contributions they have made.

We’re at the tip of the iceberg as to what valid information can be gleaned from social media. By the time we find out, the platforms we use now are likely to be obsolete (what, we can soon use more than 140 characters on Twitter?). But, the “rules” for using social media information should be the same as any other selection tool:

  • Is what you are looking for job related?
  • Is the information gathered reliable, or just one person’s opinion about what it means?
  • Would the information potentially have adverse impact against protected groups?
  • Is this really the best way to learn whether the person possesses that knowledge, skill, ability, or personal characteristic?

What, if anything are you doing to evaluate candidates online?

For more information about valid selection methods, contact Warren Bobrow.