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Recruiters in Europe recently learnt they could be breaking the law by screening candidates’ social media profiles. Legality aside, how useful is it to cyber snoop on potential hires?

Recent estimates put the percentage of employers who visit candidates’ social media profiles when hiring at 70%. And they’re not just there to enjoy the latest memes: 54% have found content that caused them not to hire a candidate, a CareerBuilder survey revealed.

Provocative or discriminatory posts, lies about qualifications, and links to criminal behaviour were some of the online discoveries that have caused employers to withhold an offer, arguably making it an effective screening resource.

Unfortunately for internet-savvy recruiters in Europe, it may not be a resource they can continue to legally use. In July this year, an EU data protection working party warned employers about the potential legal implications of snooping around candidates’ social media profiles, and advised them to issue a disclaimer before they check applicants’ online accounts.

“Employers should not assume that merely because an individual’s social media profile is publicly available they are then allowed to process those data for their own purposes,” the working party wrote.

Aside from the ethical side of the matter – who owns information on the internet? – the advice raises the question if it’s, in fact, necessary to check out your candidate’s recent holiday photos on Instagram.

Granted, accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram could give you more insight into someone’s life. Posts might tell you how they spend their spare time, who they’re friends with, and where they stand on the political spectrum.

But realistically, it remains to be seen how accurate a picture your candidate’s social media profile paints. As anyone with a social media presence can tell you: most people don’t actually share their real life online – only the parts they’re proud of.

That one picture of your candidate in running gear doesn’t mean they live an active lifestyle. And them retweeting news articles about a protest march doesn’t make them an activist.

And if it did, one could argue that plenty of people keep their personal and work lives separate to the point where whatever they choose to do in their free time has no impact on their performance at work. So, illegal activity aside, do you really need to know?

If you’re hiring for cultural fit, perhaps the answer is yes. But even then, you might be better off spending some extra time talking over a coffee, instead of watching a video of your candidate drinking some online.

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Laura Fransen

Human Resources Magazine Hong Kong
As a member of the Human Resources editorial team, Laura spends her days reading and writing about the latest local and international HR developments. A recent arrival in Hong Kong, she's constantly exploring local culture and customs - both in and outside of the office.

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