Social Networks and Employment – A Valid Data Point for Recruitment Today?


From the earliest carrier pigeon systems to contemporary telecommunication channels, humans have always looked for innovative ways to speak to one another. In this pursuit, we have erased geographical boundaries and made communication virtually instantaneous. This is possible due to the creation of social media tools which let us engage in “social networking”. Online services provide us a virtual soapbox, announcing our views, both trivial and serious, not just to our friends and family but the entire world.

Having such a medium means there can be clear a record of everything one says or does on such websites. Public opinions and strongly held beliefs can be documented and people can be held accountable for things posted online. Users willingly give up personal data to popular services such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and much of this information is public by default unless one changes their settings. While there are several instances where this may be valuable such as intra-personal relationships or criminal investigation, there is one field where such data is used habitually to make big decisions – Human Resource Management (HRM).

Direct Impact

Human Resource (HR) managers, with increasingly smaller budgets are faced with the challenge of hiring the best people for their companies while reducing employee churn or the rate of turnover in an organization’s staff. To meet their goals, they must ensure that the potential employee will “fit” into a company’s culture. This means that the recruit must not just be qualified but that their habits and opinions must align with the company’s brand and values.

Therefore, in addition to interviews, managers rely on online profile checking to be made aware of any signs that may point to a candidate not fitting in with the company and its broader ideals. This is especially important in jobs that are public facing such as customer service, sensitive such as medicine, or require deep commitment to the organizations goals such as government. Online profiles can paint a picture of maturity level while highlighting contrarian thoughts or other potential abuses that may reflect negatively if such individuals are made a part of the company.

Real World Examples

Clearly one can see why social networking is a great tool for companies to get a sense of their employees’ character. In 2014, a report emerged that “51% of employers who research job candidates on social media said they’ve found content that caused them to not hire the candidate.” (Grasz) As the cases of such behavior have increased, managers have also made sure to continue monitoring online accounts of their employees with requests for online identities being a common question on job applications. This has been especially rewarding with cases such as Justine Sacco’s. Sacco was a Director of Corporate Communications but was fired for a severely racist tweet that later went viral and ruined the reputation of her company (Pilkington). Another incident was the Taco Bell employee who was fired for urinating in customers’ food and was only caught when he posted pictures of his activities on Twitter. (Tepper)

Any such notorious event can damage reputation online and lead to losses in company revenue in the real world. This makes it the responsibility of mangers and executive level staff to monitor employee activity online. Furthermore, they must be vigilant about keeping up employee productivity, discouraging irrelevant usage, leaking of privileged information and their liability for any harassment happening under their roof. It is for these reasons that I strongly believe monitoring serves is a vital employee management technique to curb inappropriate web use and better the work environment.


The law also realizes the responsibility of private companies to use social networking as a data point in their recruitment process and as of today there are “no federal laws that prohibit an employer from requiring an employee or job applicant to provide their username and password for social media accounts.” (Workplace Fairness) This is because courts have ruled there are lesser First Amendment rights in the workplace. (Corp. FindLaw) Most companies today provide employees with written statements before joining. These explicitly state that they will be monitoring their online activities as permitted by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

While I view such monitoring as a protection of both the employee and the employer, there are those who view it as a violation of privacy and unnecessary limiting of employee behavior during their personal time. States such as Michigan and Illinois have made it mandatory obtain employee consent if their social media is accessed by their employer in any way (Workplace Fairness). There is also a related concern of limiting an employee’s ability to be a whistleblower in case they find illegal or unethical activity taking place within the company. That is why Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed, surmising that social media usage can be out of employer reach if it is used by the employee for “collective bargaining, mutual aid or protection” purposes (NLRB).

Additionally, laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act all mandate that the information found on these social networking sites cannot be used to discriminate potential or current employees based on age, race, disability, religion, national origin, or gender. (FindLaw) This makes managers hesitant to use the data they do find as one can argue on a broader basis for discrimination given the amount of personal information that is available.


The world is changing and so must organizations if they are to succeed. The approaches used by the managers are only an attempt to adapt to changing habits and communication methods. Holding employees and potential hires accountable for their actions on social media is no different than finding out internal gossip or discovering gaps in a candidate’s resume by checking their references. The only difference is that this takes place in real time and can occur even if the employee tries to hide it as deleting things on the internet is difficult.

In addition to keeping the reputation of companies intact, the policy also has the additional benefit of making sure that the company culture brings more like-minded people together. By looking at social media content managers can judge whether the employee would get along with their coworkers leading to satisfaction and happiness and if not can save the employee from a dull or harsh job that they may later lead to demotivation and decreased mental health.

Having shared my own social media accounts with past employers, I can say that this leads to a more trusting relationship between the two. In the long run, employers want to be involved in the life of their employees as it does affect their bottom line. One can imagine a world where such monitoring is used for more than just recruitment but for giving employee specific benefits and connecting them to coworkers that would better match their personality. In these ways, the little sacrifice in privacy can be beneficial both ways. And as one must remember, some things are best left private.


Works Cited

Corp. FindLaw. “Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace: The First Amendment.” Findlaw. Reuters, Inc., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

FindLaw. “Overview of Employment and Anti-Discrimination Laws.” Findlaw. Reuters, Inc., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Grasz, Jennifer. “CareerBuilder.” CareerBuilder Survey. Career Builder, 26 June 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

NLRB. “NLRB.gov.” Interfering with Employee Rights (Section 7 & 8). National Labor Relations Board, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Pilkington, Ed. “Justine Sacco, PR Executive Fired over Racist Tweet, ‘ashamed’.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Statistica. “Number of Worldwide Social Network Users 2010-2020 | Statistic.” Statista. Statistica, Inc., 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Tepper, Rachel. “Taco Bell Employee Cameron Jankowski Pees On Nachos, Gets Targeted By Anonymous (PHOTO).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 08 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Workplace Fairness. “Workplace Fairness.” Social Networking & Computer Privacy. Midwest New Media, LLC, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.


7 comments on “Social Networks and Employment – A Valid Data Point for Recruitment Today?”

  1. Interesting article! It is definitely a topic of debate. Although it allows companies to get candid insight about their candidates it may be too invasive. Given that most social platforms are used as public forums, users are essentially making their data available for the world. Therefore, I see users behavior on social media a reflection of users personality. Therefore, using social media data to make screening decisions seems logical. However, companies need to be careful on how they evaluate this information. There could be possible bias introduced while evaluating people over social media. The evaluators may not associate themselves with the candidates religious beliefs, political inclinations and lifestyles – and therefore provide a biased evaluation thereby conflict with the company policy of providing “equal opportunity” to all.

    1. Appreciate your replay.

      I too am begining to think that it may be too invasive but the comfort of Oneida be sacrificed for the security and success of the whole. Unfortunately I think the modern generation has already given up the idea of privacy through social media tools.

  2. Thank you for a great blog, Farhan. I have been thinking about this for years. Traditional CVs are such an outdated and limited way to summarize a person that social data is truly a blessing. People aren’t their CV. Their social, consumer, and other behavior is the true architect of what will end up on their CV.

    Everything one says online matters. Take a look at the customer base of companies such as Entelo and Connectifier and you notice just how much employers care about the social presence of candidates. 🙂



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    1. This is more than just about CVs friend, it is about upending the entire paradigm of employement as it exists today. CVs are an outdated form of checking ones merits leaving behind tones of good potential recruits on the table. Instead having a wholistic and complete view of a potential employee would give them a much better chance at portraying an accurate and realistic form of with rather than just one lowly peice of paper.

  3. Farhan- I think you have clearly demonstrated that this is a trend that is not going away. The Federal government is usually slow to take up trends that advance much more quickly in the civilian world, but even they have joined the social media monitoring crowd. A perfect example is social media monitoring for those applying for or maintaining a security clearance. This information is paired with a detailed suite of background information on credit, debt, lifestyle changes (divorce, family disputes) to provide early warning of “insider threats”.


    As these systems become more and more sophisticated, it will be interesting to see if similarly intrusive automated monitoring holds up to the scrutiny of civilian privacy protection laws, or if this level of detail will only be applicable to government employment.

  4. MS&E 238-A

    This has been a very interesting article to read because this has been something on my mind for a very long time. Every week I remind myself that my LinkedIn requires updating and that I should start being more active by sharing intellectual posts that will make a better impression when recruiters view my profile. While professionals and hiring managers all over the world have adopted this social trend of using employees’ social media appearances as a key indicator to their true personalities, there is something about this trend that makes me think about the downside of such a recruitment basis.

    To start off, are all of us the same person when we are on social media as we are off social media? Isn’t it easy to create and depict a fake self with the sole purpose of convincing recruiters out there that we’re a good fit for their team? While today, companies use social media profiles as a final background check, slowly there’s a growing trend where recruiters of companies first use social media appearances as a way to filter through the ocean of applications that come their way. The more I apply for jobs and get interviewed, I realized that professionals are getting busier day by day, and slowly the act of having a personal, face-to-face interview is no longer a viable option. However, personally, I believe that the best way to judge a person’s personality and attitude is to have a conversation in person. There’s a lot more to gauge about a person from such an interaction, things that no social media profile will be able to reveal.

    More than anything,how fair is this process? And what are the legal risks that go hand in hand with such a recruiting process? When an employer looks at a prospective employee’s social media, there’s a lot of information he/she can obtain that whether they know it will influence and predetermine their mindset. For example, by taking a look at a person’s social media profile, an employer can know what race, gender, and socioeconomic background they come from. Such information can create a mental bias on the employer’s part thus providing certain people with an unfair advantage over others. What if an employer finds out that the employee has a terminal illness (that he has publicly posted about). Is the employer legally at risk if he/she uses this information to decide not to offer the employee the job?
    What about the portion of society that is made up of people who dislike all things social media? People, who believe that there are far more productive ways to spend their time than updating a profile that is completely self-centered and pointless?

    It is interesting to see how a simple act of using social media as a way to determine a person’s eligibility for a job raises so many questions!


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  5. Thanks for such an interesting article, Farhan. I can see it is definitely a trend for employers to evaluate their employees’ personality because fits really matter! The traditional type of interview and resume screening seems to be very limited and may not provide the company enough information to evaluate a candidate. However, I also have several concerns regarding this new trend in addition to the privacy issues you brought up in the article:

    1. Would this “fit” evaluation bring bias into the hiring process? Unlike traditional CV evaluation or interviews, social medias posts are far from professional. Although social media may reveal some personalities of the candidate, it has little to do with the candidate’s professional ability.

    2. Is social media an accurate depiction of the candidate? The “cyber personality” of a person can be sharply different from his or her actual personality. For example, I’ve met many people who are very vocal on social medias but shy in real life. It varies from case to case, but I am a little suspicious on how much should the employers rely on social media.


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