By Adam Randall

December 11, 2012

Instead of reviewing stacks of resumes, reference letters and background checks, human resource managers like Warren Hills are doing their best detective work using social media to find clues about  job applicants’ personality and interests that were once unknown until after meeting in person.

Prospective employers’ use of social networking sites to find background information about a prospective employee has become a trend that appears to be growing. Nearly 35 percent of employers report using social networking sites to research job candidates, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Harris Interactive, which included more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals. Locally, as many as 90 percent of business owners have said that they Google search prospective employees who are finalists for a job, said Chris Praedel, director of communications for the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Praedel, director of communications for the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce

 

“Employers who are considering applicants for employment generally don’t know anything about that person,” said Hills, associate vice president of human resources at Western Michigan University. “Checking references is often to find out more. However, many employers skip the entire process of checking references and just stick with the electronic searches.”

When considering candidates for open positions, employers get a lot of information from the application or resume, but in the last five years it’s been more common for employers to do extensive Internet searches on names, Hills said.

“Reviewing resumes and talking to a potential candidate face-to-face is always going to be the No. 1 preferred method of the hiring process,” Praedel said.

Additionally, the content posted by users on various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are generally separated by users depending on what information they want to share, said Josh Kohnert, a graduate assistant for WMU career services.

A social media user may use Facebook to interact with friends, posting personal photos that may not be acceptable in a professional setting, and then may choose to use their Twitter account for interacting with businesses on a professional level and choosing to not use Twitter for their social life, Kohnert said.

“Facebook is used mostly for personal life, LinkedIn is mainly professional and Twitter is a hybrid of both Facebook and LinkedIn,” Kohnert said.

However, this may not always work out in job applicants favor.

“Keeping information separate is not always a good thing for the applicant,” Hills said. “An employer will notice this and ask what are they hiding?”

Likewise, Google can be used for more than just doing a general search of the candidate, but can also uncover unknown characteristics that an applicant may have neglected to talk about, Hills said. For some positions, an online presence shows a lot about that person technologically.

Some employers have been under fire in recent years for going too far in their searches, specifically by asking for employee passwords to their social networking sites.

“Any company that doesn’t have a clearly defined digital media or social media employee policy in their handbook is extremely vulnerable,” Praedel said.

As a result of employers using social media in the workplace, the Social Network Account Privacy Act introduced by State Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) would prohibit employers and schools from forcing employees and students to provide access information related to their social media accounts.

If passed, Michigan employers could not discipline employees or fail to hire applicants for failing to disclose access information. These rules would extend to schools and universities.

Employees are going to have to adapt to the times, meaning changes in employee handbooks and manuals are likely coming, Kohnert said.  Employers should put themselves steps ahead instead of backward which ultimately leads to legal problems for the employer.

“If you tell me something, I’m going to verify it,” Hills said.   “If something you told me wasn’t true, then you just flunked your honesty test based upon what I can check. Applicants say that it has nothing to do with me as a worker, but it kind of does.”

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