All Articles Leadership TalentWise's Todd Owens on getting social-media recruiting right

TalentWise’s Todd Owens on getting social-media recruiting right

4 min read


Todd Owens is the general manager of employment at screening-solutions provider TalentWise. Here, he shares his perspective on how social media is changing recruiting and screening of talent.

How is social media changing the way employers screen candidates?

Social media — especially the more popular social-networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn — have created a new and rich information source for HR, staffing, and recruiting practitioners screening candidates. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by executive search firm ExecuNet, 77% of the respondents indicated that they use the web for screening potential job candidates.

Social networks offer a fast and free way to verify a candidate’s résumé claims, unearth undesirable behaviors and gain insight into a candidate’s skills, personality and potential cultural fit. While bringing substantial benefits to employers, social media as a screening tool does create new legal concerns and should be used wisely to avoid potential pitfalls.

How is social media changing the way TalentWise conducts its screenings on behalf of employers?

TalentWise is helping our clients understand the legal risks of using these sites. For example, employers can legitimately reject a candidate based on information that clearly points to a likelihood of poor or unsafe job performance, but the user must ensure the information is accurate and job-relevant. Given that social networking is built upon a foundation of user-contributed data, accuracy can be difficult to prove, and users ought to assume the information is inaccurate and attempt to prove otherwise by confronting the applicant directly or verifying the information through another source.

Furthermore, users are broadly exposed to the individual’s entire profile, including information that may not be job-relevant but may adversely influence their decision. To assist clients with this challenge, TalentWise is contemplating a service geared towards vetting social-media sites and providing an objective adjudication based purely on company-defined screening criteria (for example, no violent or reckless behavior).

What is the biggest mistake you see companies make in using social networks to recruit workers?

They’re using social-networking sites as the only tool to recruit workers. According to Pamela Devata, a partner at the Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw: “Sourcing from professional-network sites such as LinkedIn carries a risk that the method could be challenged on discrimination grounds. It represents a hiring pool that is not open to the general population.” Furthermore, companies are not consulting with their legal counsel to develop a formal policy around the proper use of social media.

HR, staffing and recruiting professionals have a strategic and immediate leadership opportunity to work with their legal resources to define, publish and communicate a recruiting and screening policy to ensure the power of social media is harnessed appropriately in their organizations and reduce the risk of negligent hiring or discrimination lawsuits.

Do you find the “best practices” for using social media for screening are universal? Does your recommended approach vary depending on industry?

“Best practices” for using social media are fairly universal. In their quest to protect the rights of our citizens, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Federal Trade Commission are agnostic when it comes to industry. That said, each company must tailor their criteria to the specific roles they are seeking to fill. Companies using social media to recruit and screen candidates must ensure that the information they’re gaining from social-media websites, whether direct or implied, is relevant to the job. For example, a company hiring a driver or a chief financial officer may have a lower tolerance for potentially risky information found on a social-media site than for another company hiring an individual in a role that has no access to company assets.

We, along with our partner, Taleo Business Edition, have teamed up to outline a few additional “best practices” for using social media for recruiting and screening in Taleo Business Edition’s free summary report, “Social Network Recruiting: Managing Compliance Issues.”

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