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Recruiting and Vetting Job Candidates Using Social Tools

From LocalGov20.com – Government agencies, especially municipalities, face many challenges in adapting HR divisions to best practices for recruiting, vetting and retaining the best and the brightest of the under-40 workforce. In San Francisco, the workforce now averages 46 years old, and recruitment of Generation X and Millennial Generation workers is constrained. To address this, public agencies must develop policies that address the new realities of how younger workers find jobs and blend live-work balance. These concerns must also be balanced with privacy rights, EEO, and the perceptions of older workers.

Online social sharing sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and a plethora of others are becoming increasingly popular. For example, Facebook claims more than 200 million active users, more than half of who log in to the site at least once a day. Surprisingly, the site’s fastest demographic is those over 35 years old. Google search is also being increasingly used to vet job candidates.

In a 2008 paper presented at the International Communications Association meeting in Canada (”Cybervetting [Potential] Employees: An Emerging Area of Study for Organizational Communication”), B.L. Berkelaar points out the Google had become “old fashioned” in the face of the plethora of “formerly inaccessible, often detailed information about potential job candidates available through social sharing sites.

Scary? Or Not.

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Scary in the sense that once information is out on the internet, it’s difficult to erase (completely), and anyone can put anything out there on the internet – true or not!

Recent college graduates often find themselves paying those companies to “erase” their college years from the world wide web (they suddenly realize maybe they shouldn’t have left those comments on friend’s pages, or posted those pics as they may have cost them a job).

Not so scary, from a recruiter’s standpoint, as it may tell you a lot about your potential hire and their “persona”/character to a degree. We all know that calling up companies for a reference nowadays provides little insight on a potential hire, all because everyone is afraid of being sued these days.


I don’t think it’s fair to use social media for vetting purposes. What I do on my off time has no bearing on my ability to do my job. For example, if I express a political view on Facebook, or take some goofy quiz, and the HR person doesn’t like them or is personally offended by it — is it then fair to use that against me in the hiring process? And how could you prove that they did?

I don’t post things that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s face or defend, but what I say outside of work is different than what I might say at the office, where politics are left at the door. This is too Big Brother for me.

Adriel Hampton

If you read the whole paper, there is strong evidence that this is already happening, but without any policy guidance. GeekChick, I’d say that social networking is going to be a desired job skill in the near future.


I’ve heard of people posting pictures of their recreational drug habits. Michael Phelps lost some job opportunities (endoresements) because of his off-the-clock activities. If it is illegal in your state, and say you are a sales person responsible for entertaining clients — I know some HR folks who would be hesitant to hire them.

One incident I heard of from a former co-worker – a teacher at her school district supplemented her income as an exotic dancer (this was being discussed on her MySpace page). Her part-time job was being discussed for all to see – where she worked, what days and what hours….Not good PR for the school district when the student’s parent sees their child’s teacher one night stopping off for some entertainment on the way home, or what did happen – one of her students stumbled upon the Myspace page. I know some HR people in Manufacturing who periodically check out their employees to make sure they are not violating their confidentiality and secondary employment agreements this way. It’s not just being used for job candidates, it’s employees as well!

Ari Herzog

You’re missing two points, Adriel.

First, septogenarian women are the fastest growing Facebook population; 30-something women are merely the largest-growing population. There are more younger women joining, but a longer tail of older women.

Second, and I don’t have statistics to back this up, but my guess is most of those 30-somethings joining Facebook are to connect with high school and college classmates, not for business purposes. So, your question about HR departments doing Facebook recruiting is noble and where things are heading, but I don’t think there is evidence those joining FB want to be recruited right now.

Nathan Hogue

Tough call on this one. Isn’t vetting just the natural progression here? We are all choosing to put our lives out there for all to consume. I personally self-moderate on facebook, much like I do in my day-to-day activities. There was a time that I didn’t feel the need to, but all good things must come to an end. Social network users have reasonable contol over what information is available to lurkers – some use those controls, some choose not to.

I am one of the thirty-somethings that would welcome recruitment via social networking. Looking for jobs is not why I joined, but it would be a perk from my perspective. I agree with Adriel – the power elite will eventually come around and actively seek to exploit social networking in the workplace, thereby driving up demand for social networking skills.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Let’s turn this around for a second. Consider it from the candidates’ perspective: when you interview for a job, do you go that organization’s website and look up information about them, visiting several pages? You probably conduct a Google search on the company to see what else you can learn beyond their official presence on the Web…or to learn if that official presence extends beyond a single website.

If a job candidate is engaging in a thorough review of a potential employer, why wouldn’t the employer be conducting a similarly comprehensive vetting process?

Adriel Hampton

And if you haven’t clicked through the full post, the point is that this is being done, but in the absence of guiding policy. Unless someone knows a city that has one?

Ari Herzog

Andy – Studies indicate many corporate HR managers don’t care about a person’s Facebook page, those crazy photos, etc. If they look online for a person, they pay less attention to FB. Not all, but most.


articles on social networks & background checks.docI believe many HR professionals (and hiring managers) are googling names, email addresses, and checking out FaceBook. I know of one city in CA and a county in GA which are using such websites for screening candidates.

Obama did it! Applicants for every one of the thousands of available executive-branch jobs must be open to having their online lives thoroughly vetted.

The NFL uses facebook on rookies as part of their background check.

I just tried searching on the internet, and noticed the City of Shawnee Kansas has on their police recruit application a section where they ask job seekers what types of social media they have accounts with. One has to wonder what they are collecting this information for?!

Do they have formal policies in place? Who knows, but they are using such sites for the screening process. It may not be advised, but it seems it’s becoming a trend.

Mark Danielson

Google, FB, Twitter, Addictomatic, MySpace, LinkedIn; I check them all in addition to the regular criminal and credit checks when backgrounds are being done. Public jobs are in the public domain.

So, what are the candidates doing in public? Is it irresponsible to not find out?

Bill Gaylor

Based on my experience working with local and regional customers around the world….they are seeing the same problems with attracting and retaining. Their biggest concern much like in the US is what will happen to all of the knowledge that has been accumulated over the past 20 – 30 years when that knowledge retires along with the civil servants. Many of these govts haven’t established any processes to acquire the information from the employees other than to use social networking capabilities to do so.

Adriel Hampton

Very interesting, Bill. You may be interested in networking with Steve Radick of BAH, who is active here and in other social media spaces. BAH seems to have had some success in activating internal knowledge-sharing wikis.

Stephan Borau

The private sector can waste their time cybervetting potential candidates, but the public sector needs to be fair and transparent in their hiring practices. Skills/competencies/attributes that are not work-related should not be part of the hiring process — that is how you get systemic racism and other forms of discrimination.

Cybervetting will just lead to hiring cookie-cutter employees, when what is and will be needed going forward is diversity across the staffing spectrum (including senior management). When everyone acts and thinks the same, creativity and imagination and innovation are diminshed.

Al Fullbright

It wont be long before the computer and cell phone will be the only way to communicate and you’ll have all of it including monitors and movies on your TV. The whole world will be connected. Security and uniformity are getting better. Whatever you put out on the internet will be available to everyone. Brave new world coming. Big brother opened his eyes when the internet was born.