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How Big Is Your Social Media Footprint?

A recent job ad requiring a LinkedIn profile underscores the growing importance of social media in the candidate vetting process.

August 20, 2013
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Related Topics: HR Technology, Social Media, Recruitment, Latest News
KEYWORDS LinkedIn / recruiters
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A recent job posting at Dice.com got the attention of technology professionals by requiring applicants to have a LinkedIn profile and a portfolio of work to even be considered for the job. Around the same time, LinkedIn started promoting its portfolio-building features, encouraging members to add videos, presentations, blogs or any other portfolio pieces to their profile as a way to “showcase work that’s beyond words.”

Both the job ad and the LinkedIn campaign underscore the growing importance of social media in the candidate vetting process.

 “It’s very rare for a job ad to require a social media presence or a portfolio of work,” said Scot Melland, CEO of Dice Holdings Inc. in New York. “But in terms of recruiting, checking out a candidate’s social profile and digital footprint is very common.”

And this review process extends well beyond LinkedIn profiles and Facebook pages. Today’s recruiters scour the Web for information about potential candidates, reading blogs, tweets and discussion groups, and searching for bylines, professional affiliations and any other online nugget of information that will give them a sense of that person’s skills, experience and interests.

“Recruiters don’t just want resumes, they want leads,” said Pete Kazanjy, founder of TalentBin, a talent search engine that compiles data about tech professionals from all over the Web into a single profile. The explosion of information now accessible on the Web gives recruiters those leads.

Comprehensive searches of people’s social media footprint are particularly valuable for courting passive candidates for hard-to-fill positions, said Megan Hopkins, director of HR and talent for VigLink, a content monetization service in San Francisco. “It helps me approach them in a more personal way, which increases the likelihood that I will get a response,” she said.

She recently found a data science engineer through TalentBin, which included his thesis paper. The research tied directly into work VigLink was doing, giving Hopkins the hook she needed. She referenced his paper in her opening email, and invited him to talk with the CTO about the research Viglink were doing.

“He accepted the invitation, and eventually he agreed to relocate from Chicago to San Francisco to take the job,” she said.

Tell Me the Truth

Outside of the tech world, however, such Web searches aren’t always as productive — and may unfairly eliminate great candidates.

Charles Polachi, who recruits senior executives at Polachi Access Executive Search in Framingham, Massachusetts, finds a lot less consistency in his searches. “Younger digital natives are more conscious about their online profile, but many older, more experienced executives may not even have a LinkedIn page,” he said.

And in many cases, even if candidates do have blogs, tweets, or published articles, they are ghostwritten by interns, Polachi said. “CEOs are too busy to produce fresh daily content.”

This lack of a genuine social media presence might not matter if he’s recruiting a CEO for a manufacturing company, but if the role is CMO for a digital marketing firm, or head of a high-growth technology company, uncovering that digital footprint is vital. “Some companies need a CEO who tweets five times a day and some don’t,” Polachi said.

Regardless of the role, Polachi verifiesthe information he has on any potential candidate, he said. “Because what people say on their LinkedIn profile isn’t always accurate.”

Polachi has seen candidates put Harvard in their profile when they’d only completed a weekend leadership course, and he often finds exaggerations and omissions that can now be verified with a little due diligence. “I take everything I find online with a grain of salt,” he said.

Recruiters also have to consider the legal ramifications of uncovering information they are not supposed to have, said Michael Schmidt, shareholder and vice chairman of New York law firm Cozen O’Conner. Whether it’s discovering a pregnancy, political affiliations or membership in a gay advocacy group, just having that information can be legally risky.

“Even if you knowingly don’t act on it, you could spend two years in court defending yourself against allegations that you did,” he said.

To minimize this risk, he urges clients to insulate decision-makers from the search process, and to track any information used in the hiring decision. “It is a lot easier to defend yourself if you document decision-making up front, rather than scrambling to prove something after a lawsuit is filed.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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