Five tips for using social media for recruitment without crossing the line

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Social media sites have not only proliferated in recent years but their user numbers have also grown exponentially. There are now 238 million LinkedIn members, Facebook has nearly 700 million daily active users and Twitter users send out millions of tweets per day. Therefore, it is only natural recruiters want to tap into these sources of data in the recruitment process.

However, Laura Schaulat, a director of London’s Oracle’s Insight and Customer Strategy department, warns that information on candidates gained through social media must be handled with care to avoid being perceived as creepy.

“Yes, recruiters spend four to five hours a day on LinkedIn, according to a Wired.com article. And according to a recent Bullhorn survey, 98.2% of recruiters said they tapped some form of social media for recruiting in 2012. Still, not all candidates live on LinkedIn and they do not always view their social media participation as work related,” Schaulat stated.

She offers the following five tips on getting to know a candidate without being creepy:

1. Clearly understand your objective. Why are you using social media to learn more about your candidate? What is the appropriate medium to meet that objective? Are you looking to understand a candidate’s background or writing style, or are you assessing his or her cultural fit? The answer to each of these questions can lead you down slightly different social media paths. Having a clear objective will also ring true in the ears of candidates when they turn around and ask, “Why did you look at my [insert site name] profile?”

2. Understand the context. What social media is applicable to your company and/or the role you are recruiting for? Match this to the social media you are accessing to learn about your candidate. If you are researching candidates for a top marketing role, you probably want to understand the various tools they use to speak with customers, and in this case, tapping into multiple social media sites makes sense. On the other hand, you may find the Facebook page of a chemical engineer not at all relevant to the role.

3. Consider your candidates’ social media footprint. Just because you have found a candidate’s LinkedIn profile does not mean he or she is an active user or even understands the current privacy settings. Given the changes in privacy settings over the years, some LinkedIn users may not even know you can see their profile in the first instance. On the flip side, subject matter experts on Twitter may expect you have seen their various social media contributions. A candidate with 12 LinkedIn connections from a current employer should be handled very differently from a LinkedIn Open Networker (LION). LIONs are completely open to making LinkedIn connections and are likely to have hundreds or thousands of people in their network. Similar to subject matter experts on Twitter, LIONs will likely expect that you have seen their profile. In contrast, tread carefully with candidates with a small social media footprint.

4. Ease into the social media conversation. Speaking live with a person, or better yet looking at the whites of their eyes, is more valuable than the information on all social media sites put together. When speaking with candidates, particularly when you are reaching for inactive candidates, ease into the conversation to feel out their view on how much information you should know about them. It may be tempting to launch into the killer question based on information gleaned from social media —“Why did you move from Geneva to London in 2002 when the markets were terribly volatile?” —but hold off for a bit and allow the conversation to develop. You will gain much more insight into your candidates by gaining their trust first, as opposed to diving into a question they may view as off-putting at best.

5. Default to the Golden Rule. When in doubt, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The simple rule of social graces going back centuries is always a good default position. Put yourself in their shoes. If you are still uncertain, ask colleagues or friends their opinion on the creepiness factor. It is best to proceed carefully rather than risk alienating the perfect candidate you took the time to research. 

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