Idealpeople Blog: Social Networking and Recruitment – Is it immoral?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Social Networking and Recruitment – Is it immoral?

It’s been an entertaining week here at Idealpeople HQ, kicked off by some interesting dialogue on Social Networking and Recruitment.

For those of you not in the know, Social Networking is essentially on-line relationship building. It’s been featuring quite heavily in the news recently, with websites like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo – which offer you the chance to make a on-line profile, post photos, blogs and messages, meet new people (and catch up with long-lost friends) and generally tell the world about you, your past and what makes you tick – proliferating at a rapid rate.

So – short lesson over - we caught wind of an interview with an HR Director for an internationally recognised transport company, conducted by People Management, the magazine of the CIPD. In this interview, the HR Director claimed that “using social networking websites such as Facebook to research job candidates is like going into someone’s house and searching through their cupboards”. She goes on to say that it’s downright inappropriate for recruiters to use these sites to research candidates.

Harsh words, we thought. Presumably, the HR Director in question is talking about whether or not it’s moral to use these sites to delve a little deeper into the background of someone who has applied for a job. Doing so has many implications. On the one hand, it gives the employer some information as to whether or not their potential new hire has any serious skeletons in the closet, but - of course - imagine if you were a candidate hoping to be offered a job, only to have your potential new employer take a look at your MySpace page and not like the look of you, your friends or your hobbies...

Two polarising schools of thought emerged in the office, so before the conversation descended into a philosophical row on the exact semantics of the word morality, we decided to ask a few people in the industry for their views. Here’s a snapshot of their views:

“I disagree with the analogy of "searching through their cupboards". If the site or page the potential employee has is not "viewable by invitation only" or otherwise locked from the average surfer, then it is out in the public. I believe it is perfectly acceptable for a company to include such pages in their background and preliminary checks of potential employees.”

“While I do believe that many companies do look at FB and MS as a way to see what people might "really be like", I still think that we are opening ourselves to ENDLESS lawsuits and catastrophe. All it takes is for ONE person to hear someone say that they didn't hire someone, in the same sentence, as "did you SEE the FB profile for this person?" and the floodgates open.”

“If someone doesn't get hired because they put a picture of their @$$ on the Net, then they shouldn't have put a picture of their @$$ on the Net, right?”

“Honestly, I think that if you're not using all tools at your disposal, I think you're not doing your job.”

“Recruiters should use this information as it pertains to the job. Discriminating based on picture, marital status, favorite hobby (unless it's robbing banks) should not be used as grounds to not hire someone, in the same respect that these would not be valid reasons were they uncovered from other sources.”

Time will tell what the implications of Social Networking as a candidate research tool – and particularly what the implications of using personal profiles to judge someone’s employability – are, but the nevertheless the morality of full background checks of this nature is an interesting topic: particularly in an age where there is a lot of talk about the amount of personal data being made available to various people.

In the meantime, we’ll stick to assessing candidates based on what they can offer their next employer as opposed to anything else, but we’ll watch the debate with interest.

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