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20 September 2019

The Shadows of using Social Media in recruitment

The Shadows of using Social Media in recruitment

In an increasingly ‘online’ world, more and more people are engaging in social media and digital platforms to communicate and broadcast their lives. With job seekers personal information being offered on a platter, it is worthwhile investigating the growth of social media and its impact on HR and recruitment.  ACAS states that ~ 27% of employers view candidate social media profiles to judge a candidate's character beyond their CV and application form. Is it fair for employers to do this and what are the risks?

Graph 1: Robert Walters Insight Series – Using social media in the recruitment process.

Is it professional or private?

Some social media platforms have become prevalent as a way of interacting with friends and family on an informal, personal basis, such as Facebook & Instagram and are therefore less likely to be considered an effective or suitable channel for professional activity. However, sites such as LinkedIn highlight individual working achievements and provide professional networking opportunities. The majority of candidates and employers view such sites as ‘professional’ and are therefore often used in the recruitment process.

How does it affect your business?

You may think it is helpful to review a candidates social media profile before making a recruitment decision, in order to assess their ‘fit’ for both the company and role. However, you need to carefully consider the purpose of reviewing personal social media profiles in this way and be cautious as it can lead to unconscious bias in recruitment decisions. There's also the risk of excluding or disadvantaging applicants who have no social media profiles. Unconscious bias due to a protected characteristic such as age, race, ethnicity etc., could lead to claims of discrimination.

Reviewing professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn is generally more acceptable in recruitment screening. However, LinkedIn notifies individuals who has viewed their page, so use particular caution and be prepared to defend the business reasons for your search later down the line (in case of litigation).

While you’re looking at candidate profiles, don’t forget… they’re probably looking at yours!

On average, 76% of job seekers will research the company they are applying to, for a variety of reasons:

Graph 2: Robert Walters Insight Series – Using social media in the recruitment process.

A professional networking profile that is kept up to date and interactive can reinforce company cultures and values, as well as being a key component in building brand awareness. Business social media platforms can also provide a more instant communication front to your customers, highlighting new products, special offers, corporate announcements etc.

That being said, an outdated, poor social media presence is worse than none at all. So if you have or are going to create a social media page for your company, ensure that you assign sufficient resource to maintain it and respond to any online communications promptly.

Why is searching social media an issue?

“Information about a candidate's ethnicity, religion, age, marital status and sexual orientation - often publicly available on social media profiles - is protected under the Equality Act. Digging up sensitive 'protected' information that is not usually sought during the application process could leave employers open to discrimination claims. Rejected applicants could maintain that the real reason they didn't get the job was because of knowledge of the protected characteristic.” (ACAS)

An ACAS survey found that more than 30% of respondents would be very angry or outraged and would consider taking further action if they had been declined an interview or job based on a potential employer viewing their social media profile.


Unconscious Bias & Discrimination

While using Facebook you discover the profile of someone who has applied to you for a job as a personal assistant. You notice a picture of her with 2 toddlers in a pushchair and think she looks too young to be a mum.

You’ve now already started making a judgement – even if you did not intend to – about whether she’s the best applicant for the job.

If you then decide not to interview her and she discovered you’d seen her profile, she could argue that your decision discriminated against her because of her sex or age.

Case Law

The Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 gives a 'right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence'. Case law suggests that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace.

Recruitment Discrimination Case Law - Meister v Speech Design Carrier Systems GmbH | European Court of Justice - April 2012

What should you do?

• Ensure professional recruitment parameters – Assessment centres, interviews, psychometric tests etc.
• Do not base a recruitment decision on an online social media profile
• Be prepared to justify/defend the purpose and reason behind any social media search
• Mitigate risks associated with violating GDPR or other legislation if using social media during recruitment
• Leverage your own social media to reinforce messages around corporate values
• Implement the BPIF Social Media Policy with regards to Recruitment


Information & Support

For further guidance, to discuss a specific case, or for information on our Recruitment & Selection, or Interview Skills Training Courses please contact your regional HR Adviser.



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