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Coffeepot Chatter: Social Media and the Hiring Process

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Tom is looking at his Facebook account over his lunch break.


Tom: Oh, hey Maria, check this out in my ticker. That candidate who interviewed here last week is a friend of a friend. Maybe I’ll just have a look…

Maria (grabbing his mouse): No! Stop, don’t!

Tom: What? Why?

Maria: Tom, you should never look at a candidate’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest boards, Instagrams, nothing. And no Googling, either!

Tom: Why not? I’m just curious about how she’s connected to my friend.

Harry: Maria’s right, Tom. We can put ourselves at great risk if we learn certain things about our candidates, such as an illness or a personal problem that is covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Tom: Hmm…I guess that makes sense. We wouldn’t want to compromise the hiring process with the click of a mouse.

A Sticky Situation

In our lightning fast age, the Internet – and especially social media – connects millions of us together in ways we never thought possible.   While this can be amazing and uplifting, it also has its pitfalls and perils.  With regard to the employment process in particular, the Internet creates a minefield for those involved in hiring.

Several members of the Human Resources (HR) staff recently attended a seminar presented by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), where experts laid out a variety of concerns. They noted that it is not good practice to use social media in employment decisions.  This includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, You Tube, and other platforms.  LinkedIn, which is strictly a professional social networking site, is an exception.

Why?

If you are involved in a hiring search, checking out a candidate’s social media accounts or Googling him or her may reveal information that can put you – and Lehigh –  at risk.

For instance, you may learn about a person’s

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender, gender identity or gender expression 
  • Marital status
  • Physical or mental health, including addiction
  • Political views
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religious affiliations
  • Sexual orientation
All of these aspects of a candidate’s life are not only irrelevant to whether he or she is qualified; they are protected by employment law. Some are also covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. This means if you know about them during the hiring process, you open yourself and Lehigh University to the risk of a lawsuit if a person is not hired.

In addition to information covered by law, looking into someone’s personal life via their Facebook page could lead you to see to images of or references to the person engaging in activities of which you might not personally approve. This can cloud your perception of this person in the professional realm. Again, anything prejudicial should be avoided by anyone involved in the hiring process.

Finally, if you need more convincing that looking up job applicants online is a bad idea, the content may not even be accurate.  Mischievous teenagers post inappropriate content when a mom or dad has left themselves logged into Facebook.  Nefarious hackers have more malicious intentions.

In either case, there are times when what appears on a person’s social media profile is simply wrong. Now imagine happening upon that rogue status update today and having it cloud your judgment, but not seeing a correction posted tomorrow, when the candidate realizes he or she has been hacked.

The Bottom Line

While some employers permit Human Resources to do social media searches after the interview and finalist selection has taken place, we do not and will not do so at Lehigh. HR already performs background checks on the finalist, with their express consent, and these checks provide the appropriate information Lehigh requires for decision-making purposes.

If you have any questions about the employment process, feel free to contact Lori Claudio in HR at loc205@lehigh.edu or extension 83916.

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Spotlight is published monthly by Human Resources. Please address any comments to Hillary Kwiatek, Spotlight Editor, Human Resources, 428 Brodhead Avenue, send email to hik210@lehigh.edu, or call extension 85165.

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