Are Future Employers Spying on You?

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Is social media a useful tool to check a candidates’ creditability or an unnecessary invasion of privacy? With over a billion people now using social media sites and businesses continuing to invest in the social media trend, how we’re using online tools such as Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook are continuously being explored.

Recruitment specialists iMultiply Resourcing have been considering views on whether checking potential employees’ social media sites before deciding whether to hire them is an informative and useful exercise or an unethical and unacceptable practice. This discussion has sparked an interesting debate amongst both employers and candidates...

It’s widely recognised that hiring the right people is essential to business growth. Most employers admit to ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ checking potential employees’ social media sites, mainly to “look for obvious red flags” before making a decision. For example; have they been posting negative comments about previous employers? Are they promoting or declaring some illegal or discriminative activity? Have they posted a work history different from the one on their CV? It can be argued that it would be failing to properly vet candidates if such a check was not made, particularly for sensitive roles. Sites may also give an indication into a candidate’s professionalism, grammar, spelling, and personality, helping an employer assess whether the candidate is right for the role and organisation.

The majority of candidates seem adverse to the idea that a potential employer would feel the need to check their social media sites before making them an offer, feeling that this is “spying”, “an invasion of privacy”, and “totally unethical”. You are however in control of your own privacy settings on these sites, which a large proportion of users utilise (75% of Facebook users have set some sort of privacy control). So is it fair to say it’s an invasion of privacy when the information has been put into the public domain?

Interestingly most candidates make the assumption that checking social media would have a negative impact on getting the job, yet this isn’t necessarily the case and may in fact quite often have the opposite effect. For example, sites such as Linkedin can showcase recommendations and some sites could demonstrate creativity and communication skills, all likely to have a positive influence. However, it is very important to consider what information is used and how it is used. Looking at candidates’ social media sites is bound either consciously or subconsciously to influence judgements that legally and ethically should form no part of a decision to employ or not. For example, you may learn the candidates’ political views, religious affiliation or sexuality. Most would agree taking this type of information in to account consciously or subconsciously would be unethical.

Furthermore, is it fair to check social media sites for some potential employees but not all? Not everyone has a social media site that can be checked and most companies don’t have a policy on what sites to look at and what information you should be taking into account as part of the recruitment process. Therefore the hiring process surely can’t be consistent and equal? Nevertheless it’s important to highlight that most people who said they would check candidates’ sites before making an offer stress that this is used only as an additional precautionary measure and is not a tool that should be used alone. Some employers find it useful to check sites before the first interview so they can ask probing questions on any job related information they have found. It needs to be understood that there is nothing that guarantees the accuracy of information on social media (e.g. there is no checking mechanism on Linkedin. You can claim to have worked for anyone you like!) Therefore checking social media clearly shouldn’t be a substitute for getting references and checking qualifications.

It’s clear this is a controversial topic of discussion and undoubtedly views will change as the ways we utilise technology also develops. What would be interesting to further explore is what social media sites are currently being looked at and whether any sites are seen as more ‘acceptable’ to check before making a hire. On the whole employers seem to agree that checking candidates’ social media sites can be a valuable and informative tool to be used as an addition to current processes. Therefore if you’re looking for work or pitching for business you may want to consider what your social media sites say about you! On the other hand, how social media can be used objectively probably needs to be explored further. This leads to the question... just because you can, does that mean you should?