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Is it Ethical To Research Candidates Online?

This is an age when a growing number of available candidates for many job positions have a significant presence on a variety of social media sites. The press increasingly takes note of issues of recruitment, hiring and privacy related to this development. At the same time, it points out that many recruiter human resource departments are grappling with how to best use these new tools.

At least two ethical issues are immediately identified when discussing recruitment and social media. The first is how not to become an abuser by spamming the market with opportunities and listings. The second issue deals with deciding where to draw the line in the ethical use of social media to screen candidates and prospects.

It is this latter issue that generates stories of young people losing out on opportunities because of online indiscretions. Some recruiters have allegedly asked potential employees for passwords to personal social media accounts. It is clear that the evolving issue requires the establishment of reasonable boundaries. What is not yet clear is where those boundaries will be drawn.

It is generally agreed that gross indiscretions on largely public sites are fair game. Anyone wanting to be considered a responsible candidate for most positions should understand that such postings and information are highly prejudicial. Appropriate discretion is the first rule that should apply to any social media information. In fact, the more public and sensitive the prospective position, the more such discretion is required.

Drawing the Lines

A second emerging question is the redefinition of what is and is not considered an indiscretion. Using LinkedIn and Facebook to access relative experience and background is to be expected. Going to private postings related to vacations and family gatherings is a direction that many now question, again with the truly gross indiscretion exception.

A third immediate area of concern is the question of the right to access non-public areas of social media. Some employers come down on both sides of this issue, depending on the specific position being considered. The candidate always has the right to refuse what is considered an invasion of privacy, but what if it costs being considered for the position?

There is no question that the issues related to the ethics of recruiting and social media are under scrutiny. Anyone in the business or dealing with human resources will increasingly have to decide what rules apply in their approach to the profession relative to social media.