Social Media Hiring Trap

HR managers are leery of using social sites to screen job applicants.

Reports of companies asking job applicants for their logins and passwords to social networking sites like Facebook elicited a firestorm of criticism recently, prompting two U.S. senators to call for a government investigation, and legislators in several states to propose making the practice illegal.

The uproar started with an Associated Press article quoting job candidates who were asked to provide their logins and passwords for Facebook or other social networking sites by potential employers. The article cited several employers that ask for such information, including a Montana police department, which also asks for access to job candidates’ e-mail accounts. In response, Sens. Ralph Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent letters to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice asking them to investigate the legality of such requests.

Tracy Smith, president of the Capital Region Human Resource Association in upstate New York, an affiliate of SHRM, says hiring managers that do use social media sites most often look at what a prospective employee has posted on LinkedIn or use Google to search for the individual. If they do look at Facebook, she says, they look at what’s available publicly.

When Smith surveyed her members last week, just 10% of the 173 executives who responded said they use Facebook to screen job applicants. All respondents said they don’t ask job applicants for their Facebook login and password. “Is it a widespread issue?” Smith says. “It doesn’t appear to be.”

In the 2011 SHRM survey, this concern was the reason given most frequently for not using social networking sites, cited by 66%.

David Gallai, a partner at the law firm of Chadbourne & Parke in New York, says using social networking sites to assess job candidates involves “potential liability.”

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