Screening hires: social media’s pound of flesh?

Recently I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting more and more employers are using social networking sites to screen candidates.

It seems reasonably proactive and an efficient leverage for companies to filter through the rough and determine if applicant X would be an apt fit in a given work environment.

New York Times blog post notes the following among the top things considered as red flags: provocative photos, drinking/drug use, bad-mouthing employers, and poor communication skills.

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It takes a healthy dose of common sense and an even heftier dose of professionalism for anyone to ensure that their online presence and profile remain civil and non-incriminating. Also, privacy settings for these sites do exist for a reason.

But I do question this screening approach. And before I do, let me first reflect on the state of social transparency as most of us see it.

Wisdom of the Crowds: a blurred vision?
Each time I am continually drawn to @mehwolfy‘s post The Social Media Zebra Question, which in my view, paints one of the most unbiased pictures of social transparency and offers a compelling case for why unadulterated expression is what lends quality to the rawness of uncontrolled messaging—one of the principal tenets of social media.

The brand-customer relationship has been forever transformed as a result of this transparency. In fact many traditional best practices in communications are beginning to evolve as we pay closer attention to the collective voice from the wisdom of crowds. The new paradigm has been a boon to many businesses.

Will the mode of transparency continue to permeate the cultural mindset to the point where its sheer boldness begins to outweigh and outsmart the long-term benefits it can offer? How clearly can we sustain our vision in this brave new world?

Pound of Flesh: a measure that’s never exact
I briefly allude to a classic line from the Bard’s piece The Merchant of Venice simply because Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy not being strained, to me, speaks volumes to the poignant and well justified notion of relativity. An exact pound of flesh can never be carved out of Antonio, and, in essence, no issue is ever that black and white.

Fast forward to this article, Self-destruction through social media, in which one employee updated her Facebook status with “These kids are driving me crazy” and was dismissed for the remark.

Was the remark so pejorative that it hopelessly marred the company’s reputation or rendered said kids into irreparable psychological damage? I even came across another article which noted that employers look for excessive use of emoticons as a red flag. Seriously??

Who in these organizations is defining what is considered truly inappropriate on social networking sites? In the same way social transparency’s intensity is transforming traditional communications by storm, is there also a risk to this filtering trend getting way out of hand?

Bottom line: do organizations really get social media, enough that they are able to make sound judgment calls on who and what they deem appropriate for public consumption?

What do YOU think?

5 thoughts on “Screening hires: social media’s pound of flesh?

  1. Well thought-out and topical, Autom. We could certainly use more discussion around online screening, censoring, etc.

    I appreciate how you question corporations’ social media expertise, or lack thereof, as to whether or not they are capable of determining what’s appropriate and what’s not online. In some cases— the rather obvious ones, I suppose they can, but they shouldn’t get too carried away with reading between the lines and making assumptions.

    On one arm they say they want a candidate to be online and engaged, but on the other they over-analyze and discriminate a person for simply expressing themselves in a genuine way. Emotion is part of being human; without it, how could we really connect with each other? There is certainly a grey area here. I’m curious about what others have to say.

    Thank you for the thoughtful post!

  2. Another great post…maybe one of your best. 🙂

    I think one of the core issues you are hitting on is that as much as we talk about “transparency,” do we really know what that means or really want that? I think it differs with each person. We still live in a P.C. world, where we are judged by statements that do not agree with the collective “Borg.”

    Reminds me of a job I had once, where consultants came in and talked about the personalities that would be needed to REALLY make lasting and well needed changes at the company. I was personally identified as one that was great for the company because I wasn’t afraid to say what I thought was going on. In the end, after they asked me my opinion on various topics it turned out that because of my “out-spokenness,” I was looked at as a trouble maker and being “negative” and bad for the company–by the same consultants. It was surreal to say the least.

    I personally admit that I am not totally transparent online. On Twitter, I rarely (if ever) let my political, religious, or other controversial views be known…I don’t think people are following me for that. And even if I have great marketing/communication things to say, I guarantee that if I were to tweet or re-tweet my political thoughts, I would lose followers on one side or the other. On Facebook, I am very transparent, because there I have “real” friends who know me, and whether they agree with me or not, they know my heart and where I am coming from.

    I agree that if companies are going to participate in online screening, they need to fully understand social media and what it means–in full. Sadly, I doubt this is happening.

  3. hey autom, if that’s how the story went down, i’d agree that the line was gray. when i clicked through to the actual article, i found that the teacher wrote, “I’m feeling p—ed because I hate my students!” i think that’s quite different than saying the kids are driving you nuts. either way, it’s just not professional or smart. and since it’s online it can be taken out of context and distorted–all outside your control. basically, nobody should write anything on facebook, twitter, or even in a group email at times, that they would feel uncomfortable saying face-to-face to someone other than their closest confidante.

    and like chris, that’s coming from a very candid and outspoken person!


  4. bex, chris & fran – your thoughts on this are most appreciated. thank you.

    i think one of the most obvious and often overlooked aspects about social media transparency is the lack of effort by some to communicate in such a way that the seeds of productive dialogue are instilled and fostered.

    often, given a certain mood or passionate drive, people will quickly speak their minds online not realizing that they’ve inadvertently cast a negative light on their own character. for many, it’s difficult to strike a balance between positive and negative attitudes and express an educated (i.e., obejctive, non-pejorative) opinion on a given burning issue. but i would think that this is a natural function of the human condition. unfortunately, that understanding is not something that is readily shared in nor empathized by the business world.

    nonetheless, be it that business maintains a rigid framework on what constitutes professional conduct, i do feel that there are serious dangers with organizations combing through social networks if they themselves either don’t understand the multi-faceted nature of social media or are unqualified to make judgment calls on what posts are deemed appropriate, beyond, of course, certain obvious examples of posts that are not.

    i recently came across a tweet that read seomthing to this effect “gee, i was waiting for when social media would finally replace recruiting..[link]” replace? seriously? i must say that generally the social media environment tends to foster polarized and sensationalized attitudes. perhaps this is the ugly side of the coin which we should all be wary of. yes, there is a social media kool-aide . yes, have a sip and tell me what you think, but please get a grip and use garden variety common sense: either as a user of social media or someone who ASSUMES that it can be used as tool to determine someone’s candidacy for employment—i mean i read that latter part and think “hmm..that’s a bit of a stretch”

    i am indebted to your participation. may your thoughts (and the manner in which you share them) serve as an example for those who seek to understand social media’s immense potential.

    cheers – a

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