Pitfalls of Using Social Media as an HR Tool

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


On the surface, one would think job applicants wouldn'twant their prospective new bosses to know how drunk they got at a party the nightbefore the job interview. But just how could a potential employer discoversuch things? Easily. It's written all over the applicant's Facebook wall foreverybody to see and comment on. (Girl, you barfed behind the couch? OMG! BTW,remember when you got drunk and broke the vase at my mom's house? LOL!)

Online social networks are virtually an information goldmine for human resources professionals and others who do the hiring. In fact, in a survey conducted by the executive search firmExecuNet, three quarters of respondents claimed they use the web--and social media in particular--to screen potential job applicants. So, who'sLOL-ing now?

Using social networks as an employee-research tool is commonplace today, offering HR professionals instant access to all sorts of information about job candidates (and current staff). And--as with all advances in business--some built-in challenges and previously unseen complications are coming to light.

One of those challenges is making sure the search for a good employee doesn't step on the toes of government bodies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Problems can arise when recruiters begin to use specific social networking platforms as hiring tools without first considering the internet population--and therefore the labor pool--that is most likely to use such a site.

Taleo, an on-demand talent management service provider, recently published "Social Network Recruiting: Managing Compliance Issues." The report raises the possibility that by using social networks to fill job positions, companies might risk lawsuits on the basis of discrimination.

For instance, Quantcast found that LinkedIn's membership rolls include only 5 percent African Americans and 2 percent Latino members. That compares to a total US population of 12.8 percent African Americans and 15.4 percent Latino. At the very least, those numbers do not reflect the demographics of the general population. At worse, some people might call that disparate treatment. (If hiring managers limit themselves to LinkedIn, it could be perceived as having an unjustified adverse impact on minorities).

Some experts argue that those who source job seekers from network sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook might expect to face lawsuits over race, age, gender, disability or even sexual preference in the near future. This type of information is frequently evident on social network sites. While rejecting a candidate for personal characteristics that might point toward poor judgment or an unsafe job environment makes sense, there's no way to show that any of the information uncovered will be relevant to the job being offered.

Problems arise if that candidate is eliminated from consideration for a job and decides to take legal action. The burden is on the employer to prove discrimination--or an intimate peek into the candidate's personal life--had no part in the decision.

Despite these concerns, social networking sites remain one of the fastest ways to gain insight into a candidate's qualifications. So how does one go about using social media as an employment tool without breaking any laws or interfering with anyone's civil rights? As of this writing, there aren't any laws or guidelines from government agencies covering the use of social networks for hiring, but according to Taleo, there are some common sense guidelines you should consider following:

  • Ask yourself whether the use of social networks to screen candidates is necessary, or if an alternate approach will work just as well.
  • Avoid using social networks as a sole means for advertising jobs unless combined with other employee referral programs, then any question of discriminatory practices can be mitigated.
  • Maintain comprehensive records (these may come in handy should government auditors seek information on hiring practices).
  • Recruiters should recognize and dismiss information that isn't relevant to the job, as well as any salacious details garnered off the internet.

And for goodness sakes, pass the word to your employees, friends and especially family members that every detail or drama of your life doesn't have to be embedded online for the world to read.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

Editor's Pick

Related Topics


Upgrade Your Tech with $200 Off a MacBook Pro

If you're in the market for a new laptop, then you won't want to miss this deal.

Starting a Business

New Research Reveals 4 Personality Traits That Most Wealthy Entrepreneurs Share

In the book "Rich Habits," author and CPA Tom Corley shares the daily success habits of his most successful clients.

Growing a Business

Serial Entrepreneur Turned VC Reveals 4 Numbers You Need to Know to Scale Your Company

If you're looking to attract investment or simply seeking to scale your business, there are four key numbers you should use as your guiding light.

Business News

McDonald's Is Making a Major Change to Its Burgers in 2024

The beloved Big Mac will also be getting a big makeover.

Business Plans

She Wrote An 'Escape Plan' to Quit Her Job and Move to an Island. Now She's There Generating Nearly $300,000 A Year

"My detailed, step-by-step plan on how I would quit my job and move to a Caribbean island."

Business Ideas

This Teacher Sells Digital Downloads for $10. Her Side Hustle Now Makes Six Figures a Month: 'It Seems Too Good to Be True, But It's Not.'

When one middle school teacher needed to make some extra income, she started a remote side hustle with no physical products and incredibly low overhead. Now she brings in six figures each month, and offers courses teaching others how to do the same.