Pros and Cons of Using Social Media for Sourcing Candidates

Unemployment remains high. Many among those newly employed have been hired on a temporary basis only. There is, it seems, no shortage of candidates applying for available jobs. Human resource departments, often under severe budgetary pressures due to cost-cutting, find it increasingly difficult to narrow down the number of suitable applicants, never mind finding the right person for the job. Sourcing the talent pool effectively and efficiently for qualified candidates is more important to successful hiring than ever before.

Happy Job Applicant and Social MediaThat search for the right candidate brings us to social media. The Society of Human Resource Management reports that, in 2011, 56% of employers were using social media for recruiting and an additional 20% had plans to add it in the near future.

There is perhaps no better source of qualified candidates than social media. There is also perhaps no more potentially hazardous tool for sourcing candidates than social media. We hope the following brief examination of some of the benefits and pitfalls provides a helpful guide as you navigate this landscape.

When we say ‘social media’ we are referring to any of the over 400 categorized social networking sites (SNS). Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others allow individuals to share who they are with the world. Other social media technologies provide the means by which employers can, in essence, “pre-screen” job seekers include industry group pages, chat rooms, career websites, alumni membership sites and others.

What these all have in common is that they enable you to source talent through what I call word of mouth on steroids. While your friends and connections may not be qualified for the job, they might know someone who is.  And even if their families and colleagues aren’t qualified, they too might know a friend or co-worker looking for a job.

Social media is beneficial too when sourcing because it gives you a broader representation of the job seeker than you would get from the standard resume and cover letter. How well a person expresses thoughts, how well she writes, what her interests are, what she thinks about her current employment (or unemployment) situation, where her passions lie and how she addresses past employers are among the many things you can discover when visiting her Facebook or LinkedIn page or Twitter feed.

You can also learn whether the job seeker has established an online brand. Has he chosen to share his depth of knowledge, ability to communicate clearly, information regarding special skills or expertise? And, if so, has he remained active in social networking? In other words, has he established and maintained an active social network profile?

Finally, and this leads us into a discussion of the potential pitfalls, does the social networking site presence of the individual speak to character or perhaps even unlawful conduct? While some states prohibit consideration of almost any off-the-job behavior (i.e., in one’s private life) when making decisions regarding employment, it is still permissible to consider one’s judgment and lack of discretion for sharing such matters publicly, especially if you are looking for someone to fill a position of management or another requiring the ability to build endorsement.

Some companies simply refuse to use social media when sourcing, recruiting or hiring. The reasons are many and, importantly for those that don’t use it, valid. You may find out more information than you want to know at this stage of the process, much of which may include details that you are prohibited from considering in any hiring decision. For example, photos posted on Facebook will usually tell you whether someone is a member of a class protected by law against discrimination. The social media site may disclose someone’s political leanings or religious beliefs, sexual orientation, even his or her biases.

The danger in using social media in this process isn’t what you find out (which you usually can’t control), but what you do with it once you’ve discovered it. You should have a social media and internet use policy, reviewed by labor counsel, which provides guidelines necessary for the effective use social media for sourcing.

For companies struggling to find qualified and skilled workers, it is not a matter of “if” but “when” you will use social media for sourcing candidates.  Ignorance will not be bliss for those employers who continue to postpone the inevitable. Good advice is to start slow but start now.  Explore different social networking sites to see what participants are talking about and how other employers are using it. Select a site that seems to attract people who might fit your basic job requirements.  Begin some conversations and explore the opportunity. And by all means, develop guidelines that protect the company but use common sense and be practical.  Just saying no to social media is no longer a viable option for sourcing candidates.


Ira S Wolfe