Candidate Vetting With Social Media: The White-Glove Treatment

By Veronett Bell

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Our thanks to David Hunt for contributing this guest blog.

“I cannot spare this man.  He fights.”  -- Abraham Lincoln to critics of General Ulysses S. Grant

In the United States (US) military there is a stereotypical inspection of cleanliness where the inspecting officer puts on a white cloth glove and, using their finger, rubs a surface and then lifts the fingertip to see what dirt has been picked up.  The more I read about how candidates are being vetted by companies investigating them on the internet – through social media and web searches – the more this image comes to mind.

I was recently published in a guest post on Winning Impressions, a blog by Katrina Collier.  She helps people with their job search across the pond in the United Kingdom (UK).  She was kind enough to tweet out an essay I wrote on the use of social media in vetting candidates and then asked if I would write something for her use on her blog.  Done – and gladly.


Just Think Who You Might Be Passing Over

I have been thinking a great deal about the use of social media (SM) posts, e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, and just raw search-engine investigations of candidates.  And it occurred to me that two very notable people in history, amongst many others I’m sure, probably would have been passed over given their then-known social reputations… yesteryear’s version of social media.

Ulysses S. Grant was a noted hard drinker, admitting that his drinking was an issue that contributed greatly to many, though not all, of his life issues.  President Lincoln stood by him in the face of people opposing his character and drinking and, arguably, Grant was instrumental in winning the Civil War.  Yet in these days of SM vetting – could he be hired today?

Winston Churchill was the leader of the UK through World War II.  It was indisputably his leadership that was central to the UK’s survival during the Battle of Britain, and through his reassuring presence and sheer force of will gave the entirety of the people hope when things seemed hopeless.  Again – in these days of SM vetting, could such a person be hired today?


Candidates Showing Questionable Judgement?

I will be the first to concede that today’s SM participants, myself included, are putting out information voluntarily.  The picture of chugging from a funnel, or showing off massive amounts of skin, or any of innumerable other questionable-judgment posts, are available because a person chooses to make them so; therefore, I argue, SM posts are definitely fair game to be looked at as a part of an overall evaluation of a person.

But I think that things are getting out of hand.  The column How Employers View Your Online Presence not only repeats warnings to job seekers from my essays – and many other essays and posts – but goes further. "Too much SM posting", "You’re slacking", "Getting away from important things". "Too little", "You’re a ghost", 'Not doing enough".  "Too this", "Not enough that". 

As I wrote in another column this results in, effectively, that “… companies are enacting policies that unnecessarily limit the number of high-quality candidates.”  What one person might view as disqualifying (e.g., a picture of their drinking at a weekend party, a photo of them in a skimpy bathing suit) another might view as a legitimate thing to share considering the circumstances.  Does a person drink?  So what – so long as they are at work on time, sober, and not hung over.  Does a person dress flirtatiously at a party?  So what – so long as they’re dressed appropriately at work.  

Even letters to the editor or blog posts, barring overt calls for violence, bigoted comments, etc., should merely be considered in the context of how well-written they are, how they argue their point – because our nation depends on informed and active citizens regardless of their political leaning.  The context of the picture matters, as does the posting venue.


Social Media as a Proxy For Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is certainly a huge factor in hiring, and SM posts contain information people put out of their own will.  But the frenzied SM vetting may well lead to the destruction of their usefulness as people start concealing things. 

Ultimately, the only thing that could rescue the use of SM in this mode would be clear and definitive standards of what is considered “safe” vs. “unacceptable.”  The “I’ll know it when I see it” standard will not long last – because as awareness of the new Puritanism on SM spreads, people will shut down access to outsiders, and censor themselves in posts and every other on-line venue.

Standards need to be set.  Let the discussion start.


About the Author

David Hunt blogs at http://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com

To find out about me see: http://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/about/

Follow me on Twitter: @davidhuntpe or connect with me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidhuntmecheng/

© 2014, David Hunt, PE

 

Image Credit: Highways Agency

 

 

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