Monday, May 14, 2012

Social Media & HR –Part 3-Hiring

The discussions as to whether or not an employer should use social media networks as part of the hiring criteria goes on and not a lot changes in the content of these discussions. An article is posted about employers demanding Facebook passwords and using the content to make a hiring decision and the comments following this generally fall into a few categories, privacy, validity of the information being used for the purpose stated, and counter-measures if you are asked to do this in a job interview process. The following excerpts are responses I posted in a LinkedIn group to statements made by HR practitioners. Some comments encouraged me that HR practitioners are finally starting to pay attention to this Digital Era topic and some reminded me that there are still misconceptions about social media, how it works and what is true or not true. One comment that I have seen not just from HR practitioners but on other online sources, such as national news media is to advise people to lie to the interviewer if asked for a Facebook (or other online network) password during the hiring process. When we encounter misinformed or unethical behaviour from an interviewer, there is a way to respond and maintain ones own integrity.

In Canada, both BC and Alberta now have specific guidelines within the privacy legislation to address social networks in the employment cycle and the federal government believes that the generic wording in the federal legislation includes by default, social networks. And of course the use of information gleaned through social networks is rife with "protected class" information so employers should be using common sense before heading down this path. Candidates and employees need also to remember that if they cave and hand over access to their employer or potential employer they are giving that access to their 'friends' without these 'friends' permission; and given that not everyone is savvy about privacy settings in Facebook, this is very problematic.

So far, there is only anecdotal evidence that some Canadian employers are ignoring legislation and asking for access to social network accounts but I have read commentary from at least one person displaying the CHRP designation after her name claim that she believes that employers have a right to do so and that it is valid information to use in the hiring cycle. I find this really disappointing that someone using those credentials would find this practice legitimate but fortunately the majority of HR practitioners in the US and Canadian groups are showing a much better understanding of what is right, ethical and fair. From that, I believe that while some people will abuse social networks, this is not a majority.

Things to consider:

A Google search in a candidates name will show easily if they have a social media account. You may not be able to access the content but it will show that you have an account. Try it on your own name and see what happens. I suggest that people Google their name a few times a year to see what pops up but always do so before you submit your name for a job application.

I do not advocate lying to a potential employer about not having a social media account. Trust is important in the employment relationship and starting out with a lie is not a good way to start off. If the employer is attempting to do something that contravenes employment standards, human rights, privacy legislation and anti-harassment/bullying legislation then deal with it honestly, professionally and directly. Slipping into negative counter-behaviour does not serve anyone well and it is more likely to spiral into a messy situation. You can set your privacy settings to prevent people from seeing most of the content on your Facebook page but you cannot hide that you have one. A Google search will quickly show that you do have one.

Lying about this is problematic on two levels:

1) You will be found out because it is easy to determine if you do have an account.

2) Starting off an employment situation by lying does not bode well for the employment in future.

3) Playing games or being dishonest wraps us up in a spiral mess -it is so much simpler, more trustworthy and better for the future to simply say: (if you in fact do have one) "I have Facebook account that I use for personal use only. My privacy settings are set to protect everyone connected to me on Facebook and to protect me. I am happy to discuss what you need to know to determine my fit/ability for this position, but the information in my Facebook page is not part of that."

In response to a comment that some people have a Facebook account on business cards:when you see a Facebook link on a business card it is more likely that the Facebook account is a business account, not a personal account. "Don't assume" is good advice when looking at information related to social media/network accounts.

There seems to be a lot of myths and misunderstandings about Facebook-what it is used for, what it does, what the rules, guidelines and laws are regarding it. But Google said it as simply and easily as possible "Don't Be Evil" and-this is just common sense-read the rules and guidelines that Facebook has readily available, understand the applicable privacy guidelines, laws and regulations. Know that much of what goes on with social media accounts from a legal perspective is still unfolding, one case at a time, in the legal system in several countries.

But if you approach social media decisions by starting with: Don't be evil and take the time to research the information that is available-and you will likely stay reasonably clear of trouble.

Don't lie, don't be evasive, don't apply assumptions and beliefs to what you may see on a Facebook page (or any social network)-there isn't any science to support that. Some initial studies have been conducted but even the authors of those studies agree that the validity factor is not available.


  1. Good, well rounded post,Karin
    Thank you,

  2. Thank-you Frances.

    Have you encountered any employment related challenges with social media/networks?