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Social media for recruitment: risks and benefits

The use of social media for recruitment is on the rise as increasing numbers of employers appreciate its benefits. But weighing against this are significant risks which experts advise should be considered when creating a recruitment strategy.

Almost half (45 per cent) of HR decision-makers are already using social media tools in recruitment and a further 16 per cent say they are planning to do so in the future, according to new research from Acas and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Employers are recognising the benefits of social media, such as cost savings, increasing the pool and quality of applicants, and being able to target specific groups of candidates. They said that social media provided a straightforward way of screening candidates at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods, giving recruiters insights into an applicant's character not otherwise easily gained. Other evidence found that social media substantially increased the quality of candidates.

But with greater power comes greater responsibility. Anne Sharp, Acas Chief Executive, noted that organisations were becoming more sophisticated about using social media, but advised them to consider the potential issues and 'think more strategically about the whole recruitment process'. This included weighing up 'the extent to which it is appropriate and relevant to seek information about a potential employee's private life as part of a fair process'.

The report found the following as the main problems of using social networking sites when screening candidates:

  • accuracy of online information used in recruitment decisions
  • perception that the employer had invaded applicant privacy
  • variability of depth and quality of information available across the applicant pool, leading to unfairness and possible equality issues
  • lack of fair process ('clearly identifiable theoretical constructs') in screening procedure
  • lack of data to confirm that information used in screening is relevant to the job.

While most HR decision-makers worry that by using social media they are disadvantaging candidates who do not have access to it, the authors warned that the most serious legal risks, as well as the broader ethical questions, centred on the practice of screening.

Employers are under no obligation to reveal what social networking sites were used when they came to a decision, making it easier to discriminate against candidates.

The report also found that most respondents (55 per cent) did not have a formal policy covering use of social media for recruitment, compared with 37 per cent who did.

Acas recommends using at least two different recruitment channels and urges employers to be aware of the risks of using social networking sites to screen employees. On the other side of the coin, it suggests employees review access settings on their social networking sites to guard against invasion of privacy.

In addition to this research paper pdf icon The use of social media in the recruitment process [516kb], Acas gives detailed information about Social media in the workplace and how to keep a handle on the fast-changing developments in social media, including Social media - recruitment and performance management and Social media and how to develop a policy. Acas offers practical training courses on related issues on Recruitment and Employing People - A Practical Introduction.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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