Social media – spy, judge and jury

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The hire of tomorrow is doing, and has done, nothing different in their personal lives to the hiring manager of today, says Gareth Jones, Partner, Chief Solutions Architect at The Chemistry Group. No wonder 60% of jobseekers feel it is inappropriate for recruiters to check out their social media profiles. But it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, social media is changing and it’ll affect us all.

No one can doubt that the social era is now most definitely here. Even the most hardened sceptic would concede that ‘social’ (in its many forms) is not a passing fad. And only the foolhardy would continue to ignore its growing importance and impact. Certainly when it comes to the consumer and customer, social is becoming increasingly integrated into the core fabric of how an organisation connects, responds, manages and informs its customer base. Marketing and communication strategies without an integrated social stream are as useful as a three-legged horse

So, although its still very early days in terms of the maturity of social (the maturing will continue for at least the next 10-15 years) and the execution of social strategies still leave a lot to be desired, we appear to have accepted it as part of the mainstream of business and commerce. Pat on the back there then.

However, when we talk about ‘social business’ the focus is still very much external. We have a long way to go, a very long way, before we’ve embraced the same approach, and recognised the same value, internally with our existing employees and operational business practices. And HR is at the epicentre of this, as yet to be, realised value.

As an example, a recent survey showed that 60% of job seekers feel it is inappropriate for recruiters to check out their social media profiles.

This is a classic example of how we are getting it so very wrong. It is the result of applying 19th century thinking to a 21st century model. To be clear, what we have here is a clash of thinking and communication styles, not generational differences. That distinction is important. We are getting too carried away with using generational categories like GenY, Millenials as an excuse for so many things, when research shows that the differences we perceive are not actually down to generations.

Judgement call

You can understand jobseekers’ concerns.

Employers have been quick to jump on the social snooping bandwagon, with recruiters and HR professionals considering it appropriate and relevant to scan someone’s social ‘footprint’ (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles) for indicators on their activity and behaviour. Further, they use this information – sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly – alongside more traditional selection techniques to inform an overall judgement call regarding someone’s suitability and fit for the organisation.

In my view, this is totally unacceptable. What we have here are individuals who are either not users of social media, or who have a limited footprint, making judgement calls on individuals for whom social platforms are the defacto way to communicate all facets of their personal and professional lives.

The hire of tomorrow is doing, and has done, nothing different in their personal lives to the hiring manager of today. Said inappropriate things at inappropriate times? Been out on the lash with friends? Drank so much that I couldn’t remember the night before? Had photos taken of me that didn’t show me in my best light? Been there, done that. And so has every hiring manager, recruiter and HR professional at some point in their life.

The difference here, for me and many of the recruiters, hiring managers etc of today, is that most of that activity took place ‘offline’. We laughed about it, shared it, exchanged photos. All within our discreet network. The hires of tomorrow are doing nothing different. Or largely anything worse. The difference is, technology has made it less discreet. But just because you can see it, doesn’t mean you should be looking at it, or worse, making a judgement call on it.

This kind of activity cannot, in any way, be classed as a legitimate method or valid contributor to selection processes. The opportunity for unconscious bias, personal bias and discrimination is just too large.

In my view, we have already created an army of armchair psychologists by letting far too many hiring managers, recruiters and HR folk loose with psychometric tools, which, at least, have some rigour in their application. Allowing anyone in the hiring process to delve into an individual’s social activity is just plain wrong.

Wake up, smell your coffee: social will change and you need to know how

That said, I do think that we all need to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to the force that is social – and its implications for increasing numbers of individuals who are shifting their personal interactions and large chunks of their life personal lives online.

This stuff is pervasive, and in some cases addictive. As consumers we are buying into it wholesale, consciously and unconsciously. We are signing away our digital rights and exposing our habits at the tick of a box, without really thinking through the consequences. And it’s only the beginning. Privacy is becoming a tradable commodity and, in some cases, a thing of the past.

Technology is moving up a gear and now that we have reached a critical mass in terms of social adoption, we are seeing a whole new ability to analyse this activity and draw insights from it.

For example, sophisticated language analysis means that your personality can now be predicted simply by scanning your Facebook profile. Your cultural suitability for an organisation and role can be determined from the content of your CV alone.

And don’t think for one minute that simply ‘cleaning up’ your profile will throw anyone off the scent. The technology is so sophisticated that any attempt to do this is futile – the real you will shine through.

Overall, there are many huge benefits to be had from the ever-more socially enabled world that we live in. For every negative I can probably give you many more positives. But as with anything new, naivety and ignorance can create significant opportunity to get it wrong.

So, to employers I say, stick to robust and proven measures of selection and try not to let the inner voyeur get the better of you. To the jobseeker I say, your social profile IS you – manipulation is futile!

Gareth Jones is Partner, Chief Solutions Architect at The Chemistry Group, a consultancy that drives business improvement through behaviour change. 

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