Recruiters use Social Networking sites, but Should They?

Social networking’s vast usage has encouraged organizations to explore strategies to harness or use its power. 75% of major U.S. companies have a policy in place requiring their recruiters to check online reputational data. The most common online research involved search engines (78% of recruiters), social networking sites (63%) and photo and video sharing sites (59%). 70% of U.S. recruiters have rejected a candidate based on data found online, while only 7% of U.S. consumers believe online data has affected their job search (Cross-Tab, 2010).

The question I have is: Should we be using social networking sites in our recruitment efforts. If so, then are there any ethical parameters for recruiters in using them?

Laura Nash proposes four basic values (honesty, reliability, fairness and pragmatism) that drive our society’s definitions of business integrity. Nash calls these the ‘hallmarks of business integrity.’ They give us a framework to understand whether recruiters “should” use social networking sites in their recruitment efforts.

Is the Recruitment Honest?
Social networking offers opportunities for recruiters to solicit honest depictions of candidates. No one is perfect, but can the recruiter handle the imperfections? As well, if a candidate asked the recruiter if he checked out her social networking sites, would he answer truthfully or hide the truth? Are organizations upfront with candidates about their practices? Covert searching may actually turnoff great candidates in the process, especially if the candidates feel the recruiters were being dishonest about their techniques.

Is the Recruitment Reliable?
Are the sites visited, and the information obtained from those sites, reliable? The source of the information must be considered. If a candidate’s third-cousin twice removed posts a derogatory comment on his Facebook page, should that reflect badly on him, or is it just irrelevant babble? Another major consideration is whether the information obtained is about the right person? There are more than 2.37Million people in the U.S. with the surname Smith. How will recruiters determine the reliability of the information they find?

Is the Recruitment Fair?
How will recruiters determine what is valid and not valid about a person? People use social networking for various reasons, but those reasons are not consistent. Some access Facebook everyday; some once a month. Are all candidates being treated fairly? Is one candidate held to a different standard because his security settings allow more public access than other candidates? Is the person who accesses Facebook each day and has 1000 friends more social than the person who accesses it once per week and has 50 friends? Would a different recruiter come to a different conclusion about a candidate, simply because of each recruiter’s perspective on social networking?

Is the Recruitment Pragmatic?
Does the time spent researching these sites actually contribute something useful to the recruitment effort, or does it muddy the background search with a plethora of useless information? Sometimes we jump into using the next form of media, without asking ourselves why we are doing so. A recruiter who focuses too much on the means, may miss out on the whole point of the background search: the person. Social networking is most powerful when it accents and strengthens our in-person relationships; not when it replaces them. Would a recruiter’s time be better spent actually getting to know the candidate in person, as opposed to via social networking?

We all want to connect with others and feel valued. Whether that’s over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or through a game of Farmville, we all crave some form of community. Recruiters need to understand that desire, and use severe discretion in ambivalently looking at a few status updates and calling that research. Social networking can be used as an effective way to screen candidates, but the four questions mentioned above need to be intentionally thought through in order to truly use social networking effectively and ethically in recruitment efforts.

Cross-Tab Marketing Services. (2010, January). Online reputation in a connected world. Published by Cross-Tab Marketing Services. Accessed from

Nash, L.L. (1993). Good intensions aside: A manager’s guide to resolving ethical problems. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

2 thoughts on “Recruiters use Social Networking sites, but Should They?

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