The social networking explosion has created an “Age of Transparency” for individuals who share their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – for the entire world to see. As of January 2010, there were more than 500 million global subscribers to Facebook, with 103 million residing in the U.S. – a leap from 43 million a year earlier or an annual increase of 145 percent! Even more astonishing: The growth rate within the 35-54 age bracket is up 328 percent in the U.S. over the same period. It’s safe to say nearly everyone is doing it.
The ubiquitous use of Facebook and other social networking websites creates opportunities for hiring managers and HR professionals to “peek behind the curtain” with potential hires. While a helpful resource, social networking sites may also pose an HR risk if discrimination comes into play during the screening process.
To make sure you don’t cross any legal lines, consider these tips before scouring social networking sites:
1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Photos appearing on social networking sites often depict individuals having fun with friends and family and may not always be flattering. Judge candidates on how they present themselves during face-to-face interviews. It’s their professionalism in an office environment that you are concerned with most.
2. Check out LinkedIn for the professional point of view. While Facebook is a friends and family communication portal, LinkedIn is its professional counterpart. Reviewing LinkedIn content will give you a much better perspective of an individual’s career history, skill set and professional presentation.
3. Avoid out and out discrimination. Some managers may dig deep into a prospect’s past, and, in turn, uncover spiritual, political, social or sexual preferences in the process. Using this information and other protected categories to discriminate in the hiring process is unlawful. Some states, like California and New York, have privacy laws preventing employers from interfering with employees’ private lives.
4. Social networking sites don’t always present the facts. Many people provide inflated details about their personal lives to hide certain information or to paint a desirable picture to friends and family. Focus your hiring decisions on resumes, interviews and references to avoid relying on disinformation.
5. Add social networking rules to your company policy. The best practice to avoid misuse of social networking sites is having a written policy that clearly informs hiring managers about what information can and cannot be considered in the review process.