How Far is Too Far When Researching Job Candidates?

When you’re trying to find the right person for a job, naturally, you want to know as much about them as possible. But with the popularity of using social media as part of the recruiting process, there’s no clear line drawn about what you should or shouldn’t dig into when researching a candidate. Many employers [...]

When you’re trying to find the right person for a job, naturally, you want to know as much about them as possible. But with the popularity of using social media as part of the recruiting process, there’s no clear line drawn about what you should or shouldn’t dig into when researching a candidate.

Many employers are looking at social media profiles of job candidates, or even asking the potential hire to log into the account or hand over their passwords so the employer can view the information. Recently Techcrunch posted about how companies are asking for minimum Klout scores for social media jobs.

While a candidate should be aware of what can be found out about them online, much of what is on, for example, a Facebook page won’t be relevant to the individual’s work life. People are entitled to enjoy their personal lives. But many employers feel that finding out, say, that a job candidate is thinking about starting a family, or planning a move, could help keep them from hiring someone who will soon want to leave the job.

So, what kind of behavior constitutes crossing the privacy line? Obviously digging into any information that could be used in a discriminatory way is the main issue. Additionally, prying too deep into the private lives of candidates could make the viewer make ridiculous assumptions or pass judgements that have nothing to do with the person’s ability to do the job or their future work performance. That said candidates should protect themselves as well, being fully aware that prospective employers may be digging deeper than they thought.

Job Candidates Don’t Have a Choice

While many people would fight back against this invasion of privacy, many job seekers don’t feel like they can decline showing an employer social profiles, simply because it would put them out of the running for a job in a difficult market. And without rules yet surrounding where the line is drawn, most job hunters don’t have a legal leg to stand on.

But some states are taking action on their own, like Illinois, California, New York, and Washington. They’re passing laws to make it unlawful for employers to ask for login information for potential candidates. Congress is also considering two bills, the Social Networking Online Protection Act and the Password Protection Act of 2012. So while there are no laws preventing you from accessing private social media information now, there may soon be, as well as a slew of lawsuits for companies that don’t comply.

Should You, or Shouldn’t You?

Consider the days before the Internet and social media. We recruited pre-LinkedIn, pre-Facebook, even pre-email era. Employers had no background on a potential employee other than what was provided by the candidate or through recommendations in their own network. We relied on our interviewing skills, intuition, recommendations and the candidate's professional references. Assuming anything about potential hires through their Facebook “Likes” isn’t truly relevant to how well they will do the job.

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