Press Room

Is It Okay to Vet Candidates on Social Media During Recruitment?

December 5, 2014
New Research
Employment, Technology
Washington, DC  -  A recent article in the Journal of Applied Communication Research discusses the practice of cybervetting potential employees online as part of the recruitment process. Is such surveillance an unethical invasion of privacy? Or, is it simply a way for employers to enhance their review of formal credentials to ensure a good person-environment fit? The authors explore the legitimacy and outcomes of this practice following interviews with 45 recruiting managers.

Social media and other types of sites provide a peek into an individual’s personal motivations, beliefs, values, attitudes, and more. More than three-quarters of employers interviewed directly acknowledged using online information to assess the fit of a person to their organization. Many stated that reviewing ability, skills, and knowledge alone was not enough to gauge an applicant’s suitability. The authors interviewed recruiters from 35 organizations in sectors ranging from IT, manufacturing, and retail, to finance, education, and entertainment. Their findings reveal insights into rapidly changing ideas about what constitutes the right fit, implications for selection, and organizational justification for cybervetting.

Employers often go online to check out job candidates because they perceive increased applicant dishonesty and excessive impression management in résumés and interviews. Employers also expressed concern about possible negative publicity resulting from employee conduct, and the costs of high staff turnover if applicants were not the right fit. These fears are compounded by a perceived lack of sufficient reference information, as former employers limit reference information provided out of fear of libel claims.

Employers reported believing that cybervetting can reduce these risks by revealing the “whole person” through applicants’ presumably uninhibited dialogues and behaviors online. Indeed, many of these employers considered social media more credible and valuable information sources than traditional applicant-provided credentials.  As one manager stated, “People are 360-degree, 24-hour-a-day people. They have a lot of stuff going on, and a lot of that is really important to determine the culture of the fit at the company, for the candidate, too. So it’s not just…the companies are trying to be predatory…, but…a really good way for people to interact and see the fit for each other.”

So what is there to lose?

“Employer-employee distrust may deepen if applicants feel employers are invading their privacy using do-it-yourself surveillance technologies,” says Brenda L. Berkelaar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the study. “Such distrust has implications for employee engagement and turnover. More importantly, cybervetting compromises the diverse roles, interests, and activities the Internet allows for life.”

Legal concerns also exist. Cybervetting can facilitate unethical and irrelevant information use as well as illegal discrimination during hiring. Existing employment and privacy laws still apply, yet social media complicate existing HR practices that are designed to ensure compliance with evolving legal and ethical standards.

“By refining professional standards to account for new types and sources of information, and by encouraging people to internalize those standards, we can encourage careful consideration of what counts as relevant information for assessing employment fit,” says Patrice Buzzanell, Professor of Communication at Purdue University and co-author of the study. “Decisions like intentionally not searching online—if clearly communicated—will likely enhance an organization’s desirability among applicants, especially those who wish to keep work and non-work life separate.” 



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