Hiring through the social media smokescreen

“Do I know you?”

This question always seems to present itself after a conference or a meeting. Someone who you’ve met before, briefly, shows up and you’re left wondering just who they are.

This type of scenario has been turned on its head in the past few years. Now, with social networks, everybody knows who you are. Strangers are no longer strangers, they’re simply contacts you haven’t met yet.

I was at a conference in Los Angeles last month, and managed to meet several people with whom I’ve interacted on Twitter. But I haven’t just exchanged a few messages here or there. I’ve engaged in serious debates with these people, often heated discussion – it’s not as if we’re just coming across each other with no preconceived ideas about each other.

So when we meet, it’s slightly weird. It’s as if we’ve already had a working relationship online and now have to make it ‘official’ by meeting in person.

Now, think about this type of relationship in context with a small business. Particularly, with how a small business hires or fires people.

Earlier this week I published a feature on SmartCompany which chronicled four of the latest trends in hiring new staff. One of them was searching for staff through social media.

This has been a popular method of finding new staff over the past few years. I’ve spoken with several people in charge of hiring who won’t think about bringing someone in for an interview until they’ve done a quick Google search through some social networking profiles.

Of course, this can present some key problems.

In the same way I’ve met people who I’ve spoken with on Twitter, businesses can form preconceived notions of who someone is based on their social media profiles.

Often these are accurate and can be formed on a quick glance. If someone is tweeting fairly racist things quite loudly and aggressively, that’s a legitimate reason to deny them an interview. (One would hope.)

But for instance, what if someone doesn’t have a Facebook profile? Or what if they have a Twitter profile, but they’re tweeting articles and links that you don’t particularly find interesting? One would be tempted to use that as an excuse not to bring them in for an interview. After all, if you think they’re boring, they’re not going to the fit into the culture, are they?

This is an extreme example, but one that shows how far you can go when deciding what is or isn’t true on social media.

The people I met online weren’t necessarily accurate projections of themselves, and not because they were being dishonest. But simply because your online persona often doesn’t match your reality.

So if you’re hiring through social media, be careful. What you see might not be what you get – for better or worse.

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