Social Networking’s New Arena: Hiring

So you have a position in your firm that you need to fill. No sweat. You put an ad up on CareerBuilder and watch the resumes, cover letters and references roll in. Then, being the HR Department as well as the Owner, President and Chief Bottle Washer; you being the laborious task of going through the applicants. 

The resumes are the first filter. You know what you are looking for and if it’s not in the resume, out it goes. Then you take a look through the cover letters. Too many spelling mistakes on this one, this guy says nothing of interest and the letter from that one is two lines long. Then you find the letter that makes you ask when “Hey Dude” replaced “Dear Sir.” Wow! Look at this one: He wrote one, really long sentence that goes on for nearly the entire page and then just stops. Maybe he was sleeping the day they discussed punctuation in English class. This one hand wrote the cover in pink ink and that one has peppered her presentation with little hearts and smiley faces. You can almost taste the perkiness. 

You push through a mountain of illiteracy like Sir Edmund Hillary on his way to the summit of Mt.Everest until you find a few that actually have the experience you want and can put a sentence together in a reasonably professional way using a word processor. They even offer writing samples and letters of recommendation as well as phone and email contacts for their references. 

In the good old days, that would pretty much be it. Make some calls, have them come in and fill out an application, run a background check, give them a test if you need confirmation as to their skills or make them visit a lab to urinate into a cup. Pick the ones you like, interview the favorites, check references and make an offer. 

Social Media in the Hiring Process

There is something lacking in that old way of hiring an employee. The fact is that you don’t really know this person. You know what they say about themselves, you can see how they react to the interview process, how they communicate, at least formally, what they are like on their best behavior; and you can read what other people, hand-picked by the candidate, have to say about the applicant. 

But that is not knowing someone, that is knowing a formal version of that person. How can you tell what they are really like? A few years ago, you couldn’t. Now, you can, and the best part is, you don’t have to rely on what people say about the applicant in question, you can, in this cultural atmosphere of online self-disclosure, get the real deal right from the candidate himself. Two words: Social media. 

More and more employers are using sites like FaceBook, MySpace, Ning, and others to screen applicants. Right now, 22% of the 3,169 employers answering a poll on said they used social networking sites to screen applicants. That is double the rate from 2006. Another 9% say they plan to start screening applicants this way in the near future. Of those that do use it, over one-third found content on these sites that made them either pass on an applicant or fire them. Some of the troubling discoveries were:

  • Drug Use
  • Appearing in inappropriate photos and videos, or posting questionable or inappropriate content on their page.
  • Poor communication skills
  • Lies about background or qualifications
  • Discriminatory remarks related to race, gender, sexual orientation or religion
  • Unprofessional screen names 

In other words, they were finding things that made them question the applicant’s maturity and judgment, and just plain made them leery of spending time with these people. Of course, nearly as many hiring managers found information that merely confirmed the good view they had developed for the applicant and the wisdom of hiring them. Social networking site screening can go both ways. 

Applicant Response

Of course, the window on this tool’s usefulness is slowly closing as applicants are getting wind of it and altering their FaceBook and other pages to project a more professional image. Now, potential employers will see Bob the Applicant smiling at them wearing a dark blue suit and tasteful tie, shaved, showered and ready to hit the boardroom; that old picture of him naked in the frat house with his lips wrapped around a beer bong is history, available only to those in his inner circle of friends and then only if he knows for sure the friend in question can’t help him get gainful employment. In the survey, 16% of employees admitted to changing their social networking pages to cast a more professional image, and that, too, is a growing trend. 

The Bottom Line

Employers find a new screening tool, job applicants tend to find a way around it. It’s like a game of chess that has been going on for as long as there has been an employer-employee relationship. Just to belabor the obvious: Every tool in your hiring toolkit is only just so useful. It is the totality of your information—and your gut feeling upon meeting that person—that needs to drive your decision. 

So go ahead, check out your next applicant’s MySpace page. Just remember, you never know what you will find.