Friday, 9 July 2010

Hiring and firing with social media

Many thanks to Vicky Perry for helping me to research, write and proof read this blog.

All opinions expressed within this blog are those of the authors and do not represent those of our employers.

Using Social Media in the recruitment process
Social media has crept into most areas of the modern business, and Human Resources is no exception. The long reach of social media has impacted the recruitment process from all sides: the recruiter, the candidate and the employer.

A good example of how a social media channel can be used in the recruitment process comes in the form of LinkedIn. This is a popular social media tool for professional networking. By building a profile of your qualifications, experience, skills and so on, you can meet other like-minded individuals within your industry sector. It also attracts recruitment agencies keen to place individuals into new career posts.

LinkedIn has been offering recruitment services for some time, since around 2008 in Europe, and it is keen to extend these services as they become increasingly more popular. And it is easy to see why. From the perspective of a recruiter, what could be better than having millions of online CVs at your disposal. This is one of the key attractions of LinkedIn – the fact that is has such a large user base. While traditional recruitment channels are filled by those who are actively looking for a new career, LinkedIn contains a much wider user base where not everyone is necessarily looking for a new career. This allows recruiters to find those with the skills and/or experience they are looking for, and head hunt them directly.

According to Ariel Eckstein – Managing Director of LinkedIn’s Hiring Solutions service, “Only 10% to 20% of LinkedIn members are actively looking for work, but businesses that are looking want access to 100% of members”. So for a recruiter, LinkedIn provides a much larger pool of talent in the selection process.

I have been contacted by several recruiters on LinkedIn myself, and am connected to them too. If a job comes up for which I have the necessary skills and experience, it would be good to find out about it even if I wasn’t actively looking. Until you see what’s being offered, you can’t turn it down, and it’s a far better situation where you are having offers put your way where you can consider them.

It also much cheaper to use LinkedIn because there are no associated recruitment costs as there are using more traditional recruitment channels. Microsoft says that it saved £60,000 on recruitment costs when it was looking for software developers.

Some LinkedIn statistics:
· Four million UK members
· 15 million European members
· 500,000 LinkedIn groups
· One new member every second
· 25% of FTSE 100 companies hire through LinkedIn
· 50% of Fortune 100 companies hire through LinkedIn

LinkedIn is not the only social media channel that can be used in the recruitment process. From the perspective of a candidate looking for a job, web applications such as Facebook and Twitter can be useful. Using Facebook you can enter your professional details, and then let your friends know that you are job hunting. It may also be worthwhile finding out if there are any groups that are associated with the particular career you are looking for. If so, you could join and become an active member. This will get you noticed by others in the group. Many organisations and businesses also have a public Facebook page, and this can be a great way to find out what they are up to.

The microblogging site Twitter doesn’t have any direct job search tools, but it will allow you to connect and network with people in your industry or career sector. Start by ensuring your profile contains an accurate description of what you do, with a link to your online web site or blog. Create a professional looking background, ensuring it contains all your contact information should a prospective employer try to contact you. Leave your Twitter profile public, and post topics related to the industry sector you wish to work for. So if you are a software developer, find interesting topics and articles that are relevant to that industry and post them. You could also try to locate the Twitter accounts of local businesses and organisations.

Linkedin has a specific role to play due to its professional networking ability, huge user base and recruitment tools, but Facebook and Twitter can also be useful.

Searching a candidate’s history
In addition to formal services such as the use of LinkeIn above, employers often use Google, Facebook and other applications to determine a candidate’s personality. Strange or unusual incidents, cursing / swearing, personal attacks and other negative comments can really hurt someone’s ability to successfully integrate into a culture or organisation, especially if those searches become public knowledge within the organisation.

This is a more controversial use of social media within the recruitment process. While social media channels such as LinkedIn are open and transparent, what about when social media is used in a less than transparent manner? It is common practice for a company to do an Internet search before looking to interview a prospective candidate. If the candidate in question uses social media channels, then information relating to them will be surrendered in the search results. This may or may not be relevant to their interview, and some of it may even place the candidate in a less than flattering light. If their social media footprint demonstrates that the candidate’s personality or character is at odds with the interviewer’s, is it right that this is taken into account without the candidate being aware of it? A search result may surrender activities including affiliations to political or religious movements or militant behaviour. Or it may just be the case that the interviewer objects to their personal life on any number of grounds.

On the other hand, the candidate’s social media footprint may work in their favour. If they have a well written blog on the subject on which they are due to be interviewed, then this would rightly impress the interviewer. If they are well connected and conduct themselves in a positive way, then this too would count in their favour.

Three quarters of graduate recruiters are concerned about whether using a candidate’s public profile obtained from their social media channels could obstruct a “fair and measurable” recruitment process. Despite these concerns however, 41% of organisations in the UK have rejected candidates using this method.

Only 5% of organisations have a clear policy on using a candidate’s online social media profile as part of their recruitment process. Philip Lane, head of research at Penna Barkers “We found that most organisations didn’t have a policy in place to explain to line managers whether they can go on Facebook before interviewing the candidates”.

Reputation management
There is a surprising lack of confidence among organisations when it comes to managing their online reputation. Although 90% think that doing so is important, only 38% actually felt they did were doing it well. Managing their online social media reputation becomes increasingly important for an organisation or business who must be ready to cope with disgruntled former employees, that may use blogs and other social media channels to criticise their former employer. Examples of how an organisation can quickly garner a negative online reputation in this way, consider how the rapper Jay-Z's Las Vegas club earned a reputation for abusing its employees. Another example is how Shell Oil treated its North Sea workers.

Organisations need to have the tools to monitor for such attacks, and to be able to respond quickly, and in an appropriate manner. Although legal action may be the obvious course of action, you may not always know who your online attacker is. A blog author may be anonymous. The person who leaves a negative comment on the organisation’s blog may also do so anonymously. The latter may be dealt with by the introduction of a captcha screen, or by simply removing anonymous comments from the blog. If an organisation has a blog, it can use this to tell its own side of a story, and to clarify their message.

It’s clear that social media has a role to play in the future of the recruitment process. As they become more popular and gain larger user bases, so they are also attracting the attention of the recruitment organisations who are looking to exploit such a wide and diverse spread of online talent. It’s easy to see why, when Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels have such huge numbers of users.

There needs to be clear policies in place for when someone’s social media profile has been used as part of the selection process, what information was extracted and whether this was deemed to be negative. Everyone is entitled to have a private life, and many people make a clear distinction between their online private and professional lives. Indeed, many people have social media profiles that deliberately exclude their work colleagues for just this reason. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to work for a sought after organisation because I posted an inappropriate comment on my online private profile.

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