Social Network Privacy Fears Exaggerated
Despite the initial clamour, and concern, about employers using social networking sites to aid recruitment, new research has shown that three in four employers actually avoid using the likes of Facebook when sizing up potential candidates.
Personnel Today magazine with law firm, Charles Russell polled more than 220 HR professionals. The research found that 73 per cent of companies avoid visiting social networking sites to check information on candidates during the hiring process.
Recruiters operating in the media, professional services and finance industries were most likely to check a candidate’s online presence. More than 35 per cent of HR bosses from these industries admitting to doing so.
Only eight per cent of charities and even fewer businesses based in the retail sector (seven per cent) go on social networking sites during recruitment.
Ros Kindersley, managing director, JFL Search & Selection thinks that candidates could use social networks to aid their prospects not hinder.
"This is not something that is new. Thorough background checks are in place with certain outsourced research companies and have been for a number of years. Large companies can routinely use companies like this and if they have a strong desire to check up on a candidate, they will find a way to do so. However, companies should be warned that the information they read should not be taken at face value and can be misleading," said Kindersley.
"From a candidate’s point of view, there are opportunities to use the Internet to their advantage. In industries such as media and IT, candidates often use their personal websites as an alternative to a traditional CV and this can help them to stand out to potential employers. They need to keep the fact that all information on the Internet is public in the forefront of their mind and not publish anything that may impact on their career prospects."
This follows the news that a coalition of children’s charities is urging ministers to make it illegal for companies to trawl social networking websites for information on prospective recruits.
According to the charities, which include the NSPCC, the Children’s Society and NCH, the call for a new law is part of their wider concerns about online safety for children. The coalition say that employers and educational establishments have already browsed the Internet looking for "digital dirt" on young people who have applied for positions.
Yann Motte, former VP Product Yahoo! Europe, and current CEO of social networking and publishing site Webjam believes that any such law would be unnecessary.
"I think creating a law to stop companies viewing a person’s profile is a step too far. Social networks can empower users by giving back the control of information, and provide the privacy options and tools which allow users to better manage and differentiate who sees what, and in which context," commented Motte.
"Basic common sense says you should not post on public sites, anything that you don’t want certain people to see, whether they are employers, friends, parents or teachers. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the image you give and while the law should make sure privacy is respected, it should not have to create filters on public data on people’s behalf.
"A public page on the Internet is a flyer to six billion people. What this issue has highlighted is the need to be aware of your online web presence, and the impact it has on your personal reputation. In the future, controlling your web presence so that it reflects positively on you will be the key challenge for individuals and brands alike."
According to William Buist, managing director of Abelard Management Services, candidates should be wary of the information they upload about themselves.
"Whilst I believe that the activity of people, on sites such as Bebo is viewed as a very sociable conversation with a closed, small group of people. The reality is that the conversation is neither closed nor is it with a small group. It would make sense for the social networks ensure that their members understood both the visibility of their content, through regular reminders through newsletters and postings from the members themselves in relation to the experiences they’ve had as a result to their activity.
"Employers will naturally seek to research their candidates in as much detail is as appropriate for the role. In a situation where the content provided to social networking sites identifies a style, view point, or potential future issue for an employer it’s likely that they will take it into account in the hiring process," explained Buist.
Employers who use social networking sites to screen candidates are at risk from legal action says lawyer, Hannah Ford of Stevens & Bolton.
"The answers to the questions employers would not dream of asking in an interview can be set out on a Facebook profile, warts and all - age, sexual orientation, intolerance to groups of people, etc. Employers could easily expose themselves to a claim for unlawful discrimination if they relied on this information as grounds for ‘canning’ a prospective candidate without any means of corroboration or paper trail," she said.
"If employers view a Facebook ‘profile page’ there is no way of ‘closing their eyes’ to the information which should be irrelevant to the decision - making process. As well as unearthing information on which employers could not unlawfully discriminate (e.g. a love of films, or Italian food) Facebook also records age, marital status, sexual orientation and religious views. Employers who cyber-vet and then reject a candidate may find it difficult to rebut a presumption that they had discriminated on unlawful grounds without a paper trail evidencing non-discriminatory reasons for rejection."
Chris Philips, Vice President of International Marketing talent management company, Taleo outlines his top tips on how candidates can improve their online presence.
- First impressions count - Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective employer. Regardless of whether you have submitted an application or if you are ‘head-hunted’, many employers will now crosscheck your claims against information available through social networks. Make sure you haven’t got an embarrassing profile picture. Regardless of your privacy settings, your profile image still appears in search results.
- Who needs enemies? - Aside from the risk of identity theft, impressions formed of friends and acquaintances can have as much impact on employers and recruiters as the information about you, on your profile. The old phrase ‘A man (or woman) is known by the company he (or she) keeps’ rings true online too. Only add people you know. Don’t accept any random person as a friend. Keep your network of high quality, as it is a reflection of you. Make sure you know it down to every last comment.
- Unnatural selection - Choose which social networking sites you sign up to carefully, to portray the right image and obtain the right reach. Some are targeted at younger age groups (Bebo), some are less likely to allow you to network professionally (MySpace), whereas LinkedIn and Facebook do have more scope for social interaction and proactive networking
- Public v Private - Anything you post is potentially public information. Be mindful of the privacy settings on the site. If you’re happy for everybody to read your conversation with a friend, then chat on their profile wall but be aware of implications. Otherwise, save it for a private message as your online profile can both help and hinder you
- Recruit and Promote - Social networks have done for networking what email did for communication. To take advantage of this as a business tool, consider using the likes of LinkedIn to identify sales and business development leads, to find suppliers and job candidates, source expertise, make introductions, perform reference checks, research people, and many more tasks. Social networks can thus be used to your advantage to raise your profile in your current job too.
- Remember your manners - When making connections with other users, remember to be polite and courteous. Networking virtually is no different to that of reality, you’re still interacting with other humans, so don’t be too pushy or forceful when looking for that contact to get you the job you desire.
- Preparation, Preparation, Preparation - Check to see which companies have a presence on what networks, JP Morgan, Citigroup and Deloitte all have groups on Facebook for pooling potential candidates for jobs. This will give you an indication of who may recruit through such tools and could give an advantage in understanding the organisation better. However be aware of which groups are official, and which are not.
- Online Portfolio - Demonstrate your skills and talent by posting your work on your online profile. Whether it be articles you’ve written, photos you’ve taken, artwork you’ve created, even music you’ve made make your online profile your online portfolio.
- Be a source - If you can help someone in your network fill a vacancy by recommending a friend or putting people in contact to solve a problem, do it, it can only raise your stock. You might also benefit from such an action from a fellow friend in the future.
- Curiosity pays dividends - Be aware of new technologies and sites such as Second Life - which will not only demonstrate that you are tech savvy, but have an open mind to new possibilities, as well as displaying an interest in what’s happening around you.