Are recruiters allowed to use information from social media?
Utilizing social media has become a tool for mapping the candidates in connection with a recruitment. But how useful is that information to predict job success? And is it even legal?
According to a US survey from 2018, over 70% of recruiters use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. to check out the candidates' personal profiles. Many American companies even prefer Facebook over serious personality tests. It is believed that social media gives a truer picture of the candidate than both interviews and references. In addition, more than half of the companies have said "no" to candidates because of what they found, according to the Harvard Business Review.
But researchers question whether recruiters have a legal right to do so. Neither in the US nor in the EU can you ask if the candidate is married, has children, his or her ethnicity, religious affiliation, health or other personal information. Within the EU, the law prohibits a recruiter from checking what a candidate has published on social media, if he or she does not explicitly give his or her permission. You may only collect information that is necessary for the purpose and is work-related, without letting it affect the assessment of a candidate negatively (!). When the recruitment is complete, all such information must also be deleted or deidentified.
Another objection is that researchers have not found evidence that social media improves the ability to predict candidates' success in the new job. But in the future it is possible that artificial intelligence (AI) will change that image. Already now, for example, the police work with perpetrator profiles, when they try to identify individuals' personalities based on their way of expressing themselves on social media.
At the same time, it is easy to understand why social media has become so popular to use. The information is free, it is easy to quickly get an idea of the candidates' private interests, values and personality. It simply reveals a lot of the information that you are not allowed to ask for during an interview. But our ability to objectively judge a candidate is affected by the impressions you get and easily creates prejudice. The researchers found, for example, that job-seeking women were judged better than men, married better than single people and older people better than younger people. In addition, people who indicated education and work experience were judged to be better. On the other hand, people who provided information about religious affiliation were judged negatively, as were those who posted pictures while drinking alcohol, using vulgar language or talking about sexual behavior.
So if you are looking for a job, you should be careful about what you post on social media. It affects how the recruiter judges you. The researchers' advice is that you should avoid swearing or derogatory judgments, sexual preferences, pregnancy or religious affiliation. The researchers also believe that things that others have posted should be removed if they contain negative comments. Instead, the chance increases that the recruiters view you more positively as a candidate if you highlight leisure activities, that you write well or comment on your work or leisure interests positively.
Harvard Business Review, September-October 2021.
Zhang, L., et. al. (2020). What´s on Job Analysis and Effects of Structure on Recruiter Judgments and Predictive Validity. Journal of Applied Psychology.
IMY, Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection, mailcorrespondence. February 2022.