If You Recruit Via Social Networks, You Discriminate

Alan BelniakGeneral6 Comments

"You in for Murder 1?  I'm in because I hired someone using Twitter"

"You in for Murder 1? I'm in because I hired someone using Twitter"

That’s the main point of this article that I recently finished reading titled, “Discriminatory Twist in Networking Sites Puts Recruiters in Peril” (link here).  The thesis of the article was that many recruiters are seeking alternated methods of sourcing potential candidates.  Some of those sources may be through online social networks.  The article continues to posit that not all of today’s applicants for positions have access to these online social networks, and thus a reliance upon them from recruiters is, by definition, discriminatory.

It’s a moderate read at 1,200 words, but worth your time.  Also, read the comments, because there’s an even richer story there.

When I first read this, I was at a loss for words.  Really?  Discriminatory?  I struggled to figure out how.  Just about every geographic community I know (for the kinds and types of jobs that merit a job posting) has a library with generally accessible hours.  And in many of those libraries, there are computers for free, public use with high-speed Internet access.  This now makes access to social networks equal to all applicants.

I’ll excerpt portions of the article to highlight some of the ridiculousness.

“Networking sites, including Twitter, exclude whole populations,” says Jessica Roe, managing partner at Bernick, Lifson, Greenstein, Greene & Liszt in Minneapolis. “We are going to end up with a very homogenous [sic] workforce. The social networks represent limited social groups and very small labor pools. It’s an enormous issue.”

‘very’ homogeneous.  ‘limited’ social groups. ‘enormous’ issue.  Jessica’s overuse of superlatives essentially has the opposite effect on me: completely diluting them.

“Social networking sites are problematic because the population is limited and highly selective,” Roe notes.

‘selective’?  When I joined LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, there was no application process.  No one or no thing had to admit me.  It was selective, perhaps, in the sense that I needed (a) a name; (b) a password; (c) an e-mail address; and (d) Internet access.  My parents gave me a name; I can think of a password; e-mail addresses are freely available; see above for my position on Internet access.  How is this at all selective?

“Recruiters are often swept up by the latest process. Minor decisions lead to major consequences.”

Way to insult your intended audience.

“Sourcing from professional network sites such as LinkedIn carries a risk that the method could be challenged on discrimination grounds,” Devata says. “It represents a hiring pool that is not open to the general population. Using a limited network may have a disparate impact. If hiring through these networks can be challenged, it will be.”

I’m just not getting this.  How are these sites not open to the masses?  Look – in today’s age, you need to be sharp and qualified for a position, regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, and a host of other things that I’m forgetting – but the point has been made.  Yes, one cannot discriminate on these grounds.  But isn’t a minimum requirement for potential consideration that the person be actually qualified for the role?  I bring this up because what comprises a job in 2009 and 2010 isn’t the same that comprised a job in 1945.  I don’t suspect that general working knowledge of computers (PCs or Macs), use of the Internet, basic word processing skills, and the like were requirements in 1945.  But they are today, for most white-collar/non-physical-labor intensive jobs.  The people that are qualified for these kinds of jobs, by definition of being qualified, know how to used a computer and are thus able to represent themselves online.  Ergo, they have equal potential, opportunity, and facility to access online social networks.

“Combining Twitter with employee referral programs could turn out to be a digitalized version of word-of-mouth hiring methods because you are simply using referrals and employees’ online acquaintances,” Mollica says. “If you combine these methods and use networks to expand the applicant pool, that’s a valid method, provided that you are also reaching candidates through broader means.”

This is some of the only sage advice in the entire article.  Combined methods.  Yes.  As in, be resourceful when looking for candidates.  Don’t give up after exhausting one avenue.

“The risk is that visiting Facebook or MySpace pages or even Googling candidates may reveal information that no employer should have in a properly constructed application or interview.”

Wait a minute!  Isn’t this article merely three paragraphs prior making the case that not all potential candidates even have access to these sites?  Now that they are saying if they indeed have such access, recruiters can’t look there to view a digital footprint of a potential candidate?  I feel like I’m in the middle of the poison-in-the-cup scene from The Princess Bride.  Which is it: some candidates can’t get access to these online social networks?  Or they can get access to it, but all content is protected, and none of it can be used when determining if the candidate is the best fit for the job?

Here’s a quote from one of the comments:

“All qualified applicants should be afforded the same opportunity, anything less is discrimination.”

Please read above about these sites being open to all and not at all elitist.  If it means that LinkedIn is predominantly white and primarily aged 20 to 40 (facts cited in the article; not verified by me), then wouldn’t it make sense for potential applicants to put themselves into this social network to at least have a better chance of their profile being reviewed?  To borrow an expression from a web strategist that I follow: “Fish where the fish are.” (disclaimer: it’s used in a different context, but it’s entirely relevant here).  If this is where people are going to look for candidates, then put yourself there!

One more comment to digest:

“And really, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or whatever becomes popular a year from now, the important points are (1) source broadly; and (2) track your applicant flow.” (via commenter BryanB)

Well-stated, BryanB.  Look in more than one place, and keep a record of where you looked in case anyone asks you how you went about selecting a particular candidate.

I’m neither a lawyer nor a recruiter.  I’m not educated in law or hiring practices.  I realize (full disclosure) that some of the issues I have with the article may actually be violations of law (for those of you that know hiring/employer law, please make comments to elucidate me).  But this article is, law or not, a violation of common sense. It comes down to picking a person who is qualified.  And to ensure that the right person was picked, a thorough review of the applicant pool needs to be conducted (ideally, it’s commensurate with the level of the position).  In 2009 and beyond, that pool is now expanded with LinkedIn, Twitter, and fill-in-the-name-of-your-favorite-social-network.  It’s just part of the process today.

image courtesy of Flickr