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Firms that screen job applicants on social networks risk losing pipeline talent

16 July 2012

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Firms that screen job applicants on social networks are less likely to attract the best staff, an academic study has found.

While organisations may conduct social network screening to find the best candidates, they don’t always accomplish the intended goal.

In fact, the study found that a social network screening process actually reduces an organisation’s attractiveness to both applicants and existing staff.

Previous studies show that up to 65 per cent of organisations screen applicants through social networking websites.

Many employers claim they screen social networks to find the best candidates and weed out the bad ones. They typically look at sites like Facebook for pictures of alcohol or drug-related use and remarks about previous employers or co-workers.

Organisations have also been known to ask interns to send a friend request on Facebook to an applicant. Past research has demonstrated that there is a 50 per cent chance that a stranger’s friend request will be accepted.

However, the new study suggests that such practices may be counterproductive and result in firms losing talent in the long term.

“By doing this, you assume the applicants that organisations end up choosing are more conscientious, but no studies show that these individuals are any better,” said Will Stoughton, a doctoral candidate in industrial and organisational psychology at North Carolina State University.

“They could actually be losing better applicants.”

If employees see their organisation looking at their social networking page, they are more likely to leave because their perception of the companies’ fairness and trust has changed, Stoughton added.

He noted that there are better ways to pare down the applicant pool, such as electronic scanning that searches for specific keywords in resumes.

The North Carolina State University study, which was conducted by Stoughton et al, examined the effects of social media screening in the workplace.

In the study, 175 participants applied for a fictitious temporary job they believed to be real and were later informed that they had been screened.

The participants said they would be less likely to take a job offer after learning they had been screened on social networks. They perceived the action to reflect poorly on the organisation’s fairness, trust and treatment of employees. They also felt their privacy had been invaded.

US lawmakers have begun to tackle more invasive employment screening practices, with some US states banning organisations from asking for employees’ Facebook usernames and passwords.

In the UK, the practice of screening candidates and staff through social media could open firms up to a range of claims.

“Employers potentially face discrimination, unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and/or whistleblowing claims by job applicants, as well as by current and former employees,” said Edward Wanambwa, a partner at Russell-Cooke.

Many firms have adapted their recruitment strategies to avoid this practice. Some have gone even further – Linklaters, for example, provides staff and candidates with advice on how protect their privacy online.

“A firm needs to have a clear policy on accessing Facebook accounts for checking up on applicants,” said Jill King, the former HR director at Linklaters. “At Linklaters, we were explicit with candidates joining our pages as fans that it was not our policy to do this.”

“We created a ‘how to’ guide to show them how to adjust their profile settings so that we could not see any personal information. This goes a long way to building trust with applicants and makes a statement about the firm’s culture and values.”

For further information, see Candid hiring and Beware of vetting new hires through social media.

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