The Ethical Approach to Using Social Media Research for Hiring Decisions

The Ethical Approach to Using Social Media Research for Hiring Decisions

One of the core principles of modern business is that an employee’s personal life is private. It is never a manager’s business to know what an employee has done on their weekend, who they are romantically involved with, or even what they had for breakfast. On the clock employees should never be required to share personal information outside of what directly affects their work. And even when it does, the rules of employee privacy often prevent a manager from asking for details. As with sick days or family leave.

From this perspective, the concept of employers looking into an employee’s social media page crosses a serious line between business and personal. Of course, outside of ethical ideals, we also know that there are countless examples where working relationships and even occupational requirements cross the line between business and personal. Especially in the case of social media where coworkers connect socially online all the time, marketing jobs may incorporate an employee’s personal account, and networking is a constant.

Using Social Media for Hiring Decisions

So where does that leave recruiters and hiring managers? While it would be nice if hiring decisions could be made based on credentials and experience alone, we all know that it goes deeper than that. A hiring manager’s job is not just to find someone who can technically perform the job tasks. They also need to choose new employees who are the right social and even emotional fit for the work environment.

It has been openly acknowledged in the hiring industry that judging a candidate’s personality and priorities are part of the job. Everybody loses if a candidate feels uncomfortable in the work environment, dislikes the position’s inherent work-life balance, or clashes emotionally with their teammates. Especially if the candidate cannot adapt and winds up leaving after a few short months.

Hiring managers have always resorted to techniques for scoping out candidates that are would never be appropriate in the actual office environment. Calling up former managers and coworkers, for instance. Calling shared contacts and asking about attitude and performance. And now, checking a candidate’s social media account as a way to get an insight on their personality and priorities.

The Ethical Debate

There are very strong arguments both for and against the use of social media in hiring decisions. The arguments against point out that it would be wrong for employers to drive by a candidate’s home, call their relatives, or follow them during their weekend activities. Those who oppose suggest that just because social media is online and open to the public doesn’t justify ‘snooping’ into candidate’s personal lives.

The arguments for using social media point out that candidates are already aware that their social media pages are available to anyone who knows their name, employers included. Hiring managers have always used whatever reasonable resources are at their disposal to investigate short-list candidates, including calling mutual acquaintances and asking about previous work performance.

So where is the line? The most practical approach suggests the use of social media, but only within the normal and acceptable bounds of the hiring process.

Ethically Using Social Media for Hiring

The key to ethical hiring has always been the hiring manager’s ability to separate relevant and irrelevant facts when making the final decision. In this way, social media is no different from any other source of information. If a candidate has small children, of a racial minority, or has a non-traditional love life you would not be able to make a hiring decision on these facts no matter how they came to light. Whether you were told by a called reference or flipped through social media images, there are facts that can influence your decision and facts that cannot influence your hiring decision.

People worry about the ethics of using social media in hiring because they are worried that hiring managers will make prejudicial decisions based on things that are not really their business. So, like all hiring ethics, the key is not in the information source but the hiring manager themselves. Someone who hires based on the appearance, religion, relationships, or private hobbies of a candidate was likely already hiring with questionable ethics.

Along the same lines, an ethically strong hiring manager will know what facts they discover on social media are relevant to their decision and skim through the rest without comment. It is valid to asses a candidate’s personality and life priorities. The ethical questions only come into play if social media is used to judge candidates on personal facts that are not relevant to the job.

Social media has been an ongoing debate in hiring ethics for years. Every company and hiring manager must decide for themselves whether to allow social media in the hiring process, but the ethics will always depend on implementation. If your hiring managers can handle knowing about an candidate’s personal life and make decisions without bias, everything should be above-board. For recruiters and HR staff that may still be in training, consider limiting their access to candidate social media until they can provably make decisions only on the most objective criteria.

The Network Editorial Team

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