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    Is It Fair to Consider a Candidate’s Online Footprint During the Selection Process?

    August 12, 2014 by scrowe

    The debate about whether an organisation should use a candidate’s online profile to assess their suitability to join an organisation has been circulating for a number of years now.  Survey results (mainly from the USA and UK) appear pretty inconclusive as to how many are doing it, with figures ranging from 40% to 90% of respondents admitting to using online information in the selection process.

    The basic issues are:

    • Is it an invasion of privacy?
    • Is it fair on shareholders, existing employees and customers to select a person without using all the publically available information?
    • The level of publically available information a person publishes on their own social media accounts is controlled by that person.
    • Not all information available online about a person was authorised by them or is necessarily accurate.
    • Apart from LinkedIn, online information about a candidate is most often used to rule a person out of a job.

    An early article (2010) about the ethics of the subject describes the employer’s position as follows: “According to an article on Ethica Publishing’s web site, ‘When an employer uses Facebook as a means for employment screening, they are practicing the utilitarian approach of ethics [which states that] ‘the ethical corporate action is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected – customers, employees, shareholders, the community and the environment.’… Employers do not care if they invade your privacy during their hiring search as long as it is serving the ‘greater good’ by hiring superior employees.”

    Well, my opinion is that an employer (or agency working for an employer) should use the verifiable information that is appropriate for the stage of the recruitment process, the type of organisation and the position being sought.  That means that early in the process it is very appropriate to use information from, for example, LinkedIn (as it only exists for this purpose and all LinkedIn users are very aware of this) and the results of searches regarding a person’s work history.  I do not think it is appropriate to use Facebook or similar information at this stage as this information is predominantly concerned with a candidate’s life away from work.

    Once the person is in the final stages of consideration, though, (typically after interviews have been conducted and the person assessed for both job and cultural fit by the hiring manager and at the time they are being considered for offer) I think it is an appropriate part of a background check to review other sources of information as long as the person is not ruled out without being given the opportunity to respond or validate any unfavourable findings.

    The other consideration that, to my knowledge, has not been fully tested is the legal position.  There have been a number of high profile cases where an employer or agency has been accused of not using all available avenues to verify a person’s history when the history presented has turned out to be false, but I’m not aware of any cases where an employer is pursued because they ruled out a candidate based on information they found online.

    So, what is my conclusion?  I think it is only appropriate to use a person’s online “personal” i.e. non-work, information to confirm the appropriateness of an appointment once the decision has been made using the “traditional” methods (interview, role play, psychometric testing, etc) and that the candidate should have a ‘right of reply’, if needed,  before a final conclusion is reached.


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