Employment Issues / Social Media

Guest blog – Social media and recruitment: a useful tool?

Pugh Aisleen croppedRecent research suggests that more than half of all UK jobseekers use social media sites in their search for employment and an increasing number of employers are taking advantage of this growing trend by adapting and supplementing traditional recruitment processes with social media-based methods. However, there are a number of potential pitfalls and regular guidance and training for employees using social media in recruitment will be essential to maximise opportunities and minimise risk.

How (not) to use it

Social media can be a useful tool at various stages of the recruitment process. It can be used to attract appropriate candidates or search for them. It can also be used to gather additional information about potential candidates. The effective use of social media will vary depending on the size and resources of the employer, and also its target audience.

Social media sites

It is important to think about which platform or platforms to use and for what purpose. For example, Twitter (the online social networking and microblogging site) offers access to a wider audience and has been used to good effect by automatically tweeting about vacancies as they arise, making it a cost-effective tool at an early stage in the recruitment process. LinkedIn (the business-oriented social networking site) is likely to be more appropriate for targeted approaches to specific, and often more senior or specialist, individuals. Such approaches can be made direct without the use of recruitment agencies and/or head-hunters which could result in a significant cost saving.

Social media platforms and sector specific sites can also be used to target vacancies at non-traditional applicants and specific groups that are underrepresented in an employer’s organisation in order to improve diversity. Employers should, however, be alive to the fact that social media may not be as accessible to all candidates, for example older or disabled candidates or those without internet access.Information can also be easily accessed and widely disseminated – for example, by way of a ‘retweet’ or ‘like’ – to maximise exposure by onward referrers and/or peer to peer recommendations.

Screening applicants

Social media sites can be a useful way to search for appropriate candidates and glean additional information about them, particularly those with a strong online profile or presence. However, employers should exercise caution in screening or vetting potential candidates in this way and employers may wish to restrict the use of social media sites to checking up on particular concerns, for example if there is a reason to believe that a job applicant has been untruthful. It is, of course, arguable that information that is freely accessible and in the public domain is ‘fair game’ and it is up to individuals to ensure that they have adequate privacy settings to prevent the disclosure of any compromising information.

Online checks are becoming increasingly common, particularly with candidates for high profile, public facing or politically sensitive positions. The potential importance of detailed online checks was recently demonstrated in relation to the Kent youth police commissioner, Paris Brown, who resigned from her role after just three days following intense scrutiny over offensive tweets posted by her in 2011, long before her appointment to the role, which were published by the Mail on Sunday.

Employers should aim to be open and transparent in addressing with a candidate any relevant matters uncovered via social media and conduct the same searches at the same stage in the recruitment process for each candidate. Any information discovered through online checks should be balanced against the fact that it will not always be reliable and/or accurate and should not be allowed to influence any hiring decisions without strong (non-discriminatory) justification. Where relevant information is uncovered via social media, it would be prudent for employers to make printouts or take screen shots of the information, particularly if it turns out to be inaccurate or unrepresentative. Any questions asked of a candidate should always be job-relevant.

Employers should not make employment decisions based on any of the protected characteristics – age, sex, race, disability, marriage or civil partnership, religion and belief, and sexual orientation – as this may constitute unlawful discrimination.

Employers should also be aware of any other legal obligations they may have to candidates, such as those under the Data Protection Act 1998 which requires that data is obtained and processed fairly and lawfully as well as any specific ‘terms of use’ applicable to a social media site.

Employers’ online presence

Employers should not underestimate the importance of their own online profile and presence to the recruitment process and the effective use of social media can lead to increased brand awareness and a positive corporate image, for example an active (and interactive) Twitter or Facebook account, which in turn can help to attract talent. Social media can also be a way for potential candidates to gather information about a prospective employer from current employees and/or shareholders and it is therefore important for businesses to be proactive in developing, managing and maintaining a positive online presence.

What next?

Social media sites are becoming increasingly important to employers, and it will be important to keep pace with developments as they arise and respond to this fast-evolving trend in order to optimise and create opportunities.

To keep up to date with changes to the law in the UK and how recruitment practices are being developed across the world, follow this blog or visit regularly.

Aisleen Pugh is an employment solicitor and can be followed on Twitter @aisleenpugh

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