Screening job applicants using information drawn from social networks could prove dangerous for firms, carrying the risk of damage to the company image and the threat of legal repercussions.

Recruitment: Social Network-Based Screening of Applicants Creates Risks for Employers

The practice has become quite common, if not actually systematic: for a number of years now, recruitment managers have in many cases been making use of information drawn from applicants’ social network posts. This is all perfectly understandable as the information shared on people’s personal profiles can sometimes give recruiters a useful picture of a candidate, especially as regards such subjective criteria as how they get along with other people and their respect for authority. However, while such information can be of use to recruiters, personal profiles are of course by no means a source of precise information. In fact a recent study by a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina in the United States points to the risks involved for the company’s public image, extending even to the possibility of legal proceedings. The research team, led by William Stoughton, examined the reactions of job candidates faced with this kind of profiling based on social networks.

Strong, consistent reaction

The researchers studied job applicants in two groups. For the first group, the team examined candidates’ reactions to a recruitment process which openly included checking information published on social networks. Study participants in the second group rated their experience with a simulated recruitment process which involved drawing on social network posts. The results demonstrated that when people are confronted with such uses of their personal information, even when it is available on a public website, they react very negatively to the process. William Stoughton’s team has thus revealed an important implication for companies of this type of recruitment procedure. In the majority of cases studied, the applicants, whether or not they were offered the post, felt that such use of this information amounted to an intrusion on their privacy. Some participants stated that they would simply prefer not to apply for a job with a company that was known to be using social network information to screen applicants. Some even said that if they had the chance to do so they would take legal action against the company.

A counter-productive practice?

So it appears that rather than being an efficient aid to recruitment, social network screening may jeopardise the firm’s reputation. “Social network spying on job candidates could reduce the attractiveness of an organisation during various phases of the selection process, especially if the applicant pool at large knows or suspects that the organisation engages in such screening,” stresses Stoughton. In the same vein, people who do accept an offer of employment after being selected under what they see as unfair procedures, if they find out about the system, are prone to undesirable behaviour post-hire, sometimes for example underperforming in the job. When the company does not follow what are perceived to be the rules of the game, new hires may tend to disturb the firm’s workplace structure. As far as the relationship between the company and the general public is concerned, the very strong reactions recorded by the University of North Carolina research team seems to indicate that a company known for using this type of approach may suffer harm to its reputation in the eyes of both its customers and potential employees.

By Quentin Capelle