According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, an increasing number of employers make decisions about a candidate’s suitability not only from application forms and CVs and interviews, but also from what candidates do and say online.

In fact, as many as two in five employers search social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to gain a more rounded picture of a candidate’s suitability for a role.

So what’s driving employers to use social media in the recruitment process?

The benefit of vetting candidates online

Quite simply, the benefit of vetting candidates online is time and cost.

Recruiting people is a very time consuming, money draining process, and not just in terms of advertising cost and recruitment agency fees. Choosing the right candidate is critical, because choosing the wrong one can have a negative impact on productivity, the motivation of the wider team and, of course, profitability. In short, getting it wrong can be very costly indeed.

What better way, then, to be sure that a candidate is the right fit for your business by looking at what they say and do, as well as what others say about them, online? Checking online profiles is also a handy way to check a candidate’s credentials, qualifications and professional and personal associations, and, of course, to marry what is said online with what is actually said on an application form or during an interview.

There is no law, of course, against employers exploring a candidate’s online profile, but there are many laws that can be very easily violated in the process. So it is vital that employers are aware of what they should, and should not do when gathering intel online.

Be – very – aware of the law

There are a number of legal implications to be aware of during the recruitment process, especially when making judgements from a candidate’s online profile. Relevant laws include:

  • Data Protection Act – employers must be fully transparent about the sources of information on which they base their decisions, and keep diligent records.

Of course, what is recorded can be retrieved, and as an employer you have eight principle rules to comply with. Those rules state that the information is: fairly and lawfully processed; that it is processed for limited purposes; that it is adequate, relevant and not excessive; and that all information gathered is accurate, e.g. not mistaken for another person of the same name.

It’s important to note that, although a ‘right to privacy’ in the online space is yet unclear, it is highly likely that the UK will move towards the more restrictive laws and practice in place in other EU countries and the US. Recruiters – watch this space.

  • Discrimination law – discrimination legislation, including sex, race and age discrimination, applies equally to online as well as offline checks.
    • Rehabilitation of offenders – generally speaking employers should ignore spent convictions when making recruitment decisions. There are exceptions, including in some financial regulated roles or those working with vulnerable people such as children, the infirm and elderly.
    • Human rights – under the UK Human Rights Act 1988 everyone has the right to freedom of expression, meaning we are all able to freely express our opinion and ideas anywhere and anyhow we choose. Including online. Employers therefore need to be mindful that, should they choose not to recruit a candidate based on an opinion shared online, they may need to prove that that opinion would have had a negative impact on the business.
    To ensure you don’t fall foul of legislation, it’s important to stick to the following rules.

    Rules of engagement

    1. Make applicants aware at an early stage that you may conduct online searches
    2. Keep diligent records of information gathered
    3. Validate the information you find with the candidate
    4. Rely on fact, never on opinion, and get credible written references
    5. Don’t discriminate, whether it is a legal requirement or not – always hire the best person for the job
    6. Consider the relevance of the information you find to the role – a candidate posting crazy holiday snaps might be less important when hiring for a more junior position
    7. Define post termination restrictions in line with your data and email policy within contracts and handbooks at the point of hire (i.e. tell them when you hire them what they can and cannot take away if/when they leave)
    8. Communicate the rules of engagement, and legislative requirements, with all staff involved in the interviewing and recruitment process
    The rules governing recruitment in today’s online and digital world are no different to what they have always been: be clear, be transparent and apply common sense when hiring new people. And always, always, comply with the law.

    By Becky Hill, Director at HR Now Ltd