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Where social media meets our biases

3 min read


At ERE’s Fall Expo, the hot topic is — not at all surprisingly — social media. There’s a lot of anxiety about  figuring out these relatively new tools — and predictions of how rapidly they will change the way companies recruit and retain the best workers.

Arguments about whether it’s “worth it” to invest in social media are beginning to sound absurd. You might as well ask if it’s worth it to pay your company’s phone bill each month. You want to talk to people, right? Well, this is where they are talking, and your absence will be conspicuous.

Elaine Orler pointed out in her presentation this afternoon that you shouldn’t really view these tools any differently from other ways you communicate with people. If you have policies and expectations that cover face-to-face meetings, e-mail and phone calls, they likely apply just fine in social media spaces.

But I do think that the relative ease with which we can gather volumes of about people — much of it irrelevant to their work qualifications — and the way social circles develop should give us some pause. Not so we can develop policies against using social media, but just so we can make sure we’re making the best use of the tools.

Social media gives us access to information about candidates that we didn’t necessarily have before — or least not until they came in for the interview. In many cases, it’s information that shouldn’t have any bearing on the job. In her presentation yesterday, Carol Miaskoff from the EEOC reminded recruiters of the basics of anti-discrimination law, and pointed out the bias pitfalls of excessively relying on particular social networks for hiring. Also, if you’re perusing candidates’ Facebook pages, are you confident that you won’t be influenced by knowing their race, family status or religion?

There’s another type of bias that can creep in — one that isn’t very smart even if it isn’t illegal. Prolific isn’t competent. A social media maven, who has figured out how to get their name out there in all these channels, isn’t necessarily a better fit for a job than someone who hasn’t adopted these tools. Someone can have an amazing professional network and not have a single Twitter follower. Social media communities can quickly get cliquish; make sure you use these tools to broaden your networks, not push people out.

Are you worried about social media contributing to bias in the hiring process? If so, how are you responding?

Image credit, jgroup, via iStock