Recruiters, stop stalking your candidates

Some recruiters call it ‘social media profiling’. Others call it ‘social screening.’ In certain cases, a more appropriate term would be ‘stalking’.


1984 in 2015

Want to know some alarming statistics? According to a study by social media monitoring service Reppler, over 90% of recruiters visit a candidate’s profile on a social network as part of the screening process. A further 69% have rejected a candidate based purely on their social media content. Those figures paint an almost Orwellian picture, with candidates across the globe being scrutinised based on statuses, snapshots and associations.

We live in a world where everything you post online – whether that be an angry rant about pet peeves or a picture of a pet pooch – can be (and often is) found online by recruiters and hiring managers. And that’s an eerie thought.


The obvious exceptions

To clarify before continuing, using LinkedIn to check out a candidate’s professional credentials is perfectly fine – it’s more or less what LinkedIn was built for. Candidates have created those LinkedIn accounts to see and be seen. It’s their platform to showcase their skills and experience, and they’ve put their profile together in full knowledge that it will be assessed by recruiters during the hiring process.

Nope…LinkedIn isn’t the problem. Nor are social accounts which are clearly and unmistakably connected to the candidate’s professional career. Many people working in digital marketing jobs, for example, create specific work Twitter accounts and blogs to advance their careers. You’ll also have candidates in developer jobs who have created their own websites to showcase their range of technical skills.

These professional channels are all A-okay to investigate. Nobody’s privacy is being invaded, nothing questionable is going on and nobody is acting in an unethical way.

It’s when recruiters are thirty clicks deep into a candidate’s holiday photos that social media screening becomes an issue.


Recruiters are looking

They’re looking, and they’re looking further than you might think. Recent research from Jobvite has found that recruiters don’t just stop at LinkedIn. 66% screen via Facebook, 52% via Twitter, 21% via Google+, 20% via RSS and 15% via Youtube. With platforms such as Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat also increasingly being used for recruitment purposes, this list will only continue to expand.

Like it or not, we’re all being watched and assessed online as part of the standard recruitment process. So, where should the line be drawn? There definitely comes a point where social screening oversteps the mark. With social media profiling statistics on the rise, it’s high time to face the unpleasant reality of screening evolving into stalking.


Getting up close and personal

There’s a huge and identifiable difference between a personal social account and a professional one.  Looking at the latter is valuable, as well as being fully anticipated. Dissecting the former is akin to eavesdropping on a candidate’s conversation with their close friends or observing their behaviour on a night out. It’s not relevant to the role in question and it’s also creepy. Yes, creepy.

Recruiters don’t need to be thumbing through a candidate’s Instagram account to assess whether their skills are a strong fit for the job, nor do they need to see their mundane social updates on the night’s TV to gauge their cultural fit. Those posts weren’t created for your eyes and they aren’t applicable to the candidate’s application.


Crossing the line

Let’s look at the example in which job seekers for Bozeman city posts were asked for their Facebook logins as part of the screening process. Really, that happened. As well as standard criminal record checks and past employment reviews, candidates were required to provide their details and/or passwords to:

“Any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo,, MySpace, etc.”

Does anybody else have the screeching violin music from the Psycho shower scene playing in their head right now?


The pitfalls of privacy invasion

Now, it’s understandable why checking out personal social accounts is tempting. Professional accounts are highly selective in the information they share, and you don’t exactly get a sense of whether your candidates are racist Neo-Nazis or sadistic sociopaths from their LinkedIn profiles. Plus, it’s not likely that a candidate is just going to come out and tell you that they swear like a sailor and have daily inclinations to rant about the world and all of its inhabitants.

But you can’t poke and pry into their personal lives.

Why? Well, firstly, we all have a right to privacy. Things that candidates post on their non-professional social channels were intended for their friends and family – they don’t pertain to things that you have any right to research. So what if the candidate has ten cats as their cover picture? And what’s it got to do with potential employers if they wrote an embarrassing status whilst drunk on a night out one time? (Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it!)  If it’s not information specific to that job, it’s not a recruiter’s business.

Secondly, it’s potentially illegal. From looking at personal accounts, you could learn about the candidate’s age, religion, ethnicity, marriage status, etc., etc., etc. In short, you could be learning about things that could accelerate into discrimination lawsuits. Taking screening too far could get very messy indeed.

And lastly (although this list could be extended), let’s not forget that personal social media posts can very easily be taken out of context. If you don’t know the candidate, you don’t know whether the controversial update they’ve written is dripping in irony or if it’s meant in full seriousness. You don’t know whether they were just having a horrifically bad day when they wrote that raging rant or whether their inappropriate comment was in fact a ‘frape’ by a friend playing a prank. You can’t make hiring decisions based on invasive social media assumptions.



Talk, don’t stalk

It’s natural that you want to find out as much about your candidate as possible. And that’s why you should stop stalking and start talking.

Distinguish between private and professional social media platforms. Stop using social media to stalk candidates and search for their personal information. Seek out information about the specific job instead. Speak to the candidate, ask behavioural interview questions and get digging deeper. You can only find out the candidate’s suitability for the role by having those all-important conversations, not by clicking through their selfies.

Hey, your candidate might turn out to be a raging lunatic. But at least find that out directly rather than through guesswork from their personal social media updates.

After all, we all know that one person who’s an annoying idiot on Facebook but a great (and successful) person in real life. Think of that person the next time you’re tempted to do some personal social staking and resist the urge.

Views: 2312

Comment by Daniel Fogel on June 29, 2015 at 10:30am

Roxanne - Another great post.  When I stop to think about it, it can be pretty shocking how much of our lives is out there for the public now. I think about the children who were born post Facebook and their entire lives have been documented like the Truman Show.  From a privacy standpoint if you consent to having your photo taken with a friend, do you de facto consent to have your photo posted?  I think it becomes an ethics question of knowing when to draw the line in our candidate "research"

Comment by Roxanne Abercrombie on June 29, 2015 at 12:00pm

Thanks for reading Daniel! I recently had a recruiter follow me on Instagram (which I mainly use to post silly, rather embarrassing pictures of my friends and family) which was the worrying inspiration for this post...

Comment by Daniel Fogel on June 29, 2015 at 12:36pm

Did you catch this article on Fast Company today?

Comment by Austin Fraser Ltd on June 30, 2015 at 6:34am

Another great post Roxanne, this really hits on a few vital key points. Some alarming statistics too!

While social media screening can be really beneficial in making sure candidates are a good fit for job roles/companies, there also has to be a limit. Everyone's information is so easily accessible that I feel this will only become more common. I can't imagine many people would be comfortable sharing log in details though...ouch!

I guess the question is, how do we ensure that recruiters draw the line between personal and professional?

-Charlotte, AF

Comment by Eric Putkonen on June 30, 2015 at 10:40am

Great post, Roxanne.

I wouldn't work for a company that asks for passwords to my personal social media accounts and such.  It is ridiculous and not relevant.  There is business life and then there is personal life...the two have been kept separate for decades without too much incident.  It is private - we don't talk about it at work or bring it to work.  Posting silly photos on Instagram should not count for you or against you in consideration for a job.

Comment by Roxanne Abercrombie on June 30, 2015 at 11:57am

Couldn't agree more with both of you!

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on July 3, 2015 at 8:54pm

I agree that indulging in research based on social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, etc., is very unprofessional and misguided.  I am proud to say that I have never (to my memory) ever screened a candidate out based on a social media post (other than LinkedIn content which showed someone NOT to be a good fit for a position).  It's definitely a 'bottom-feeder' habit.

Comment by Nicholas Meyler on July 4, 2015 at 12:39am

Reflecting a few more hours on this topic, I think it is worth stating that Recruiters may be more vulnerable towards adopting "stalking"-type behavior than the rest of the population (as an occupational hazard).  I have had a number of experiences with other recruiters whose behavior was very inappropriate, thoughtless, even delusional and obsessive. Very good points, Roxanne.


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