How useful is a social media check on Facebook for a job application?


As a recruiter, checking your candidate’s social media profile for information which isn’t covered on their resume: not only has it been banned for several years, it also makes little sense, according to Australian research. What someone posts online says little about the performance in the workplace. Liwen Zhang of the UNSW Business School in Sydney investigated how effective a visit to a candidate’s social media profile actually is. Her research, focused on Facebook, shows that messages on that medium say nothing about the working qualities of future employees.

That may sound logical, however recruiters often perform a digital search. After all, you want to know what you can expect, and a resume doesn’t tell you everything. However, since 2017, this is no longer allowed in the Netherlands: European privacy legislation prohibits recruiters from browsing social media and Google, even if candidates give permission to do so. After all, it’s hard to say no when your future job depends on it.

A broader, but also a distorted picture

Before that, it happened frequently, emphasises Gusta Timmermans, chairman of Recruiters United and former head of recruitment at ING. “It gives you a broader view of someone.”

Moreover, it can prevent unpleasant situations, as became apparent when a new mortgage broker at the bank had spoken unfavourably about a previous employer. “We then entered into a discussion about it, but he did not want to remove those expressions. We didn’t hire him.”

However, the ban that has been in place for several years is a good development, according to Timmermans. “You guarantee the privacy of the candidate, and you also ensure that your image is not distorted by information that actually has nothing to do with the job.”

The Australian study mentions situations where people are not hired because of their tattoos or bikini photos. “Those kinds of things don’t say anything about how you function in the office.”

The more irrelevant information, the worse the judgment

Research shows that it is better to only focus on work-related information as a recruiter. “Under the guise ‘if it doesn’t help, then it doesn’t hurt’ you see that applicants get a lot of questions, work and non-work related,” says Laetitia Mulder, associate professor at the University of Groningen and specialised in (un)ethical behaviour and morality. “But research shows that it’s harmful.”

“The more information a recruiter receives which is irrelevant, the more the image of a candidate is blurred. As a result, less good decisions are made.” In fact, the development which no longer allows recruiters to search candidates on social media and Google is a good one.

So why does it seem so tempting for recruiters to take a look at social media profiles? Because whether it actually no longer happens since the ban remains to be seen. “People have the idea that they are very good at figuring how someones be like, but everyone actually overestimates themselves,” says Mulder.

She points to other research which shows that people are quite capable of making a decision based on previous work performance, such as a resume. “But if they then also have a conversation with a candidate, in which irrelevant information is added, the judgment only gets worse.”

Military ties or racist statements

But where is the dividing line between irrelevant information and things that may be important? Timmermans recalls a candidate for a management position who turned out to go abroad for four months every summer to fight in a volunteer army. “As a bank we were not allowed to have military ties, so we had to investigate this.”

And what about, for example, racist expressions? After all, you could argue that this does not stand in the way of proper functioning in the workplace. “If your organisation stands for diversity and inclusion, it is strange if an employee makes racist statements on social media,” says Mulder. “As an employer, I would consider that.”

It is important to enter into a discussion about matters that are more in a grey area, says Timmermans. She herself hired a freelancer with a pretty strong opinion on Twitter. “But as long as she does her job well, I see no problem working with her. You don’t have to have the same opinion to work together.”

Using social media can help professionals to find a job and offers many advantages during the search process. Are you looking for professionals to add to your organisation? Contact us to discuss the possibilities!

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