RETAIL | How employers are using social media to make recruitment decisions

In the early days of social media, the idea of an employer checking a potential employee’s Facebook page to assess their suitability for a role wasn’t something that many job seekers would have worried about.

Users felt that their profiles were a place to express themselves unfiltered – and work was an entirely separate domain.

However, as a YouGov survey demonstrates, Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly popular recruitment tools for employers, with nearly one in five employers (19%) having rejected candidates based on their online activity.

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of employers have rejected candidates based on their online activity

This statistic is yet another example of how social media is infiltrating most aspects of people’s everyday lives – and while it may be a daunting prospect for job seekers, employers are capitalising on the opportunity to get a more personal (and arguably more accurate) impression of prospective employees.

The benefit to you as an employer is simple: as most of us now live our lives online, our social media profiles are an indication of our social circles, our interests and how we express ourselves. Checking candidates’ social media profiles can also prevent a situation later on whereby you discover that an employee’s social media presence or the views they express reflect badly on your business.

How is social media influencing employers’ recruitment decisions?

As an employer, you have likely experienced candidates who come across well on paper but whom you later find out are not a good fit for the role or the company culture. For this reason, cautious employers are embracing sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as a welcome insight into a person’s character – and this is influencing their recruitment decisions.

Off-putting activity included:

  • Aggressive or offensive language (75%)
  • References to drug use (71%)
  • Bad spelling and grammar (56%)
  • Drunken pictures (47%)
  • Political views and activity (29%)
  • Vanity (26%)

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey also found that 46% of employers use Facebook to screen applicants – almost as much as they use professional networking site LinkedIn (48%).

What are the risks of using social media to weigh up job applicants?

While sites like Facebook don’t currently have a function that notifies users of who has viewed their profile, snooping on prospective employees isn’t risk-free for employers.

You might feel safe in your anonymity when viewing profiles on Facebook or Twitter, but if you view someone’s profile on LinkedIn without anonymity enabled, they’ll know about it – and it’s worth keeping that in mind.

You should also remember your obligations under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While you are within your rights to view a candidate’s social media profiles, GDPR prevents employers from taking this information into account when making recruitment decisions without the candidate’s consent. 

Therefore, if you find that you’re swayed by what you discover online, you might want to consider eliminating social media from your recruitment process so that there’s no suggestion of it influencing your hiring decisions. As always, getting advice from an employment law company will ensure you are always on the right side of the law when recruiting.

Employment Law considerations

Although there is no law to prohibit employers from scouring applicants’ social media profiles, it is essential that any information you obtain when looking through their social media profiles is not used in a discriminatory way.

If you ultimately decide not to hire a candidate based on what they post online, you may leave yourself open to claims of unlawful discrimination.

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For example, if a candidate’s profile contains numerous pictures of their children and references to family life, this isn’t to say that they won’t be able to juggle family and work commitments. Similarly, you shouldn’t presume that because their tweets make reference to practicing a particular religion, they won’t “fit in” with managers and colleagues.

From an Employment Law perspective, employers should be aware that discrimination claims can be brought against them in the pre-employment period – and that while looking at a prospective employee’s social media profile isn’t unlawful, using it as a basis for rejecting them could be.

Top tips when using social media as part of your recruitment process

If you are using social media within your recruitment strategy, you should make sure you keep your goal in mind: assess the candidate’s suitability for the role. While you may start off checking whether their education matches what they’ve listed on their CV, be careful not to end up checking their holiday photos from 2008. While culture fit is important, their ability to do the job should be at the forefront of your decision making, so don’t be tempted to reject someone on first impressions – it is always worth an interview.

It’s important to remember that our online personas aren’t always a true reflection of who a candidate is – or what they can do. Just because an applicant misspelt a word in their Facebook status doesn’t mean that they will make the same mistake in the workplace – even so, more than half (56%) of employers admitted that bad spelling and grammar would reduce the likelihood of them hiring a candidate. Similarly, just because they’re teetotal doesn’t mean they won’t fit in with your current extroverted, sociable team. If you’re too quick to rule people out on these small details, you may miss out on employees who may have been a real asset.

If you’ve got into the habit of checking applicants’ social media profiles as part of your recruitment process, ask yourself what purpose this serves for you. If you feel that it’s because your current recruitment plan doesn’t give you a thorough enough impression of who candidates are and what they have to offer, consider whether you’re asking the right questions at an interview. These should include a mixture of competency-based questions and those that address cultural fit, such as their relationship with their manager and co-workers, what they feel are the positive aspects of their current work environment, and their preferred work style.

Our advice

If you’ve been stung in the past by candidates who didn’t match up to their CV, it makes sense to ensure your recruitment process is as robust as possible – whether that includes social media or not is up to you. Ultimately, while sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can be great recruitment tools, you should take care not to become over-reliant on social media – and take the information you find with a pinch of salt.

If you’re in the process of recruitment, worried about a pre-employment claim, or in need of advice about any part of the process, contact our team of qualified Employment Law Advisers on 0345 226 8393. We can help with compiling job descriptions, updating Contracts of Employment, creating Staff Handbooks and reviewing your existing policies and procedure, plus any other employment matters.


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