Viewing candidates’ Facebook pages is about to get really problematic

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If you view applicants’ Facebook profiles as part of the assessment process, chances are the judgments you make won’t be accurate. A recent study of recruiter ratings of recent graduates’ Facebook profiles found no correlation between their predictions about the graduates’ performance and the graduates’ actual job performance. The Florida State University research also found evidence that the recruiters who used Facebook to evaluate candidates tended to favor females and those who appeared to be of Caucasian descent.

It’s signs of discrimination like these that have drawn the attention of the EEOC. While current legislation neither expressly permits nor prohibits the use of social media in the assessment process, the Commission held a meeting to discuss the state of the issue last week. The Commission is currently accepting public comments while it considers the matter further, and has not given any indication of where it will go from here.

Meanwhile, research has confirmed that there may be merit in the EEOC’s fears of discrimination. Last year, Carnegie-Mellon University researchers sent out 4,000 job applications on behalf of Christian, Muslim, gay and straight candidates with social media profiles. They found “significant” evidence of hiring bias based on religion, but less based on sexual orientation.

“While it appears that a relatively small portion of U.S. employers regularly searches for candidates online, we found robust evidence of discrimination among certain types of employers,” says research scientist Christina Fong. “Both by itself and controlling for a host of demographic and firm variables, our Muslim candidate was less likely to receive an interview invitation compared to our Christian candidate in more politically conservative states and counties.”

If the EEOC does react to findings such as these, screening by means of social networks is sure to become a minefield. Ensure you have these best practices at your company:

Be strategic about what stage in the process social media screening happens At the EEOC meeting, employment lawyer Jonathan Segal recommended delaying screening until after the first interview as a best practice. Because you will already be aware of an applicant’s status in various protected groups, it’s unlikely that the influence the screening may have will have adverse legal effects.

Don’t let hiring managers do it Have a policy that discourages line managers from using social media to screen candidates, and let that process be wrapped up in the HR department. The HR professional is more likely to be aware of what can and cannot be considered in making judgments.

Don’t give the impression that you screen via social networks A University of Houston study last year found that when candidates know an employer uses Facebook as a screening tool, they’re more likely to perceive said company as unfair, and less likely to apply for a job there. “The problem may be in the way employers framed their use of Facebook,” says study author Juan Madera. “If it's framed as part of the screening process, they could be turning away good applicants.”

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