Social Networking Sites Aren’t Commonly Used to Dig Up Dirt

The majority of employers who are using MySpace and similar sites are not doing so to do background-research on candidates, according to a new survey.?

Eighty percent of employers said that they did not use social networking sites to conduct background research on college students or college grads; 20 percent said they did. And 77% indicated they did not use social networking sites to source passive candidates; 23% said they did.

ERE Media’s study of 53 recruitment professionals from corporations and professional staffing firms was conducted from June 30 through July 7.

In contrast, 68% indicated that they used Google, Yahoo, or another search engine to conduct background research on candidates; 64% indicated use of professional sites such as LinkedIn to conduct background research; and 60% percent indicated they used blogs

?”The MySpaces of the world are all about character,” says one managing partner at a staffing firm, but “the LinkedIns of the world are all about a person’s work history.”

Another respondent, a branch manager at a mid-sized IT consultancy, says, “I don’t use blogs or social network sites to review candidates.? I realize that they put it out there for all to see, but it feels like an area that could bring trouble to the process in a discriminatory way.”

And a staffing consultant for a large electronics engineering firm says, “Personally, I believe that the military approach of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the safest and cleanest route. I’ll let references, background investigations, and drug screens bring out the truth without over-analyzing candidates/situations.”

None of this suggests that if in the course of reviewing a candidate’s social networking site, risqu? photographs and/or other provocative comments relating to alcohol consumption, drug use and/or sexual exploits are revealed, employers would ignore the information. In fact, 66% said they would not hire the person for the job; 34% said that they would.

Says one finance-industry recruiter, “If they are so bold and brazen to advertise their risqu?, riotous lifestyle, why would I want a person like that in my organization?”

It’s also worth noting that those recruiters who use Google, Yahoo, and other sites to research candidates may end up with the same information as those who use MySpace — because MySpace information could end up showing up as search results.

Qualities and Characteristics

Recruiters were asked, if they were using social networking sites to aid in recruiting efforts, what kind of information they were hoping to find. Qualities and characteristics range from the basic (job skills and contact information) to loftier attributes such as integrity and level of professionalism.

Says one telecommunications recruiter, “The only qualities that are important are the ones that relate to a position. There is too much of a gray area with the type of information on those social sites/blogs. Even if you did turn someone down based solely on the qualifications presented knowing information such as birth date could open an organization up for some legal issues.”

Mixed Feelings

The conclusion to be drawn from this small sampling of recruiters points both to an embrace of social networking sites as well as a rejection of them as recruiting tools. Those in favor hope to discover the kind of insightful information relating to a candidate’s character or background that may help the organization find the right person for the job. Those less enthusiastic about social networking sites express concern about the possible discriminatory elements embedded within the sites, and feel that traditional recruiting methods should be sufficient.

Survey respondents clearly see a difference between using so-called professional social networking sites, which tend to focus on work history, vs. true social networking sites, which tend to focus on more personal and/or recreational aspects of the individual’s life.

One survey respondent went as far as to suggest that if they were using a social networking site to recruit at the college level, they might be more forgiving of questionable content than they would be if they were researching a mature job-seeker on a professional board.

–Elizabeth Saperstein