Laura Schaulat, director of Oracle's Insight and Customer Strategy team
Nearly ten years ago, a friend introduced me to a very nice eligible guy, and I agreed to a date. We were having a glass of wine before dinner, and my date brought up the topic of Google, saying, “It’s amazing what you can learn about people on the Internet, like someone finished a 5K in 29:32.” Now this was 2004 in London, and my date had just quoted my finishing time from the 1995 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Houston, Texas. He instantly transformed from a nice guy to downright creepy, and I spent the rest of the evening politely waiting to go home.
Fast forward to today, and there are now more than 238 million LinkedIn members from more than 200 countries and territories. Facebook reported nearly 700 million daily active users in its second quarter 2013 results. As of March 2013, when Twitter turned a mere seven years old, users sent over 400 million tweets per day. Social media sites have gradually expanded their user base from a small group of early adopters into what now can only be described as the online user. In other words, social media is now mainstream.
It is only natural that recruiters who are in the business of people will want to tap into these rich sources of data when searching for a new candidate. Having said that, candidate information gained through social media must be handled with care to avoid being perceived as creepy. Yes, recruiters spend four to five hours a day on LinkedIn, according to a Wired.com article. And according to a recent Bullhorn survey, “98.2 percent [of recruiters] said they tapped some form of social media for recruiting in 2012.” Still, not all candidates live on LinkedIn and they do not always view their social media participation as work-related.
There are boundaries you can cross that will alienate your potential candidates, just the way my “nice guy” turned into a creep in one sip of chardonnay.
Here are five tips to help you get to know a candidate without being creepy.
Clearly understand your objective.
Why are you utilizing social media to learn more about your candidate? What is the appropriate medium to meet that objective? Are you looking to understand a candidate’s background or writing style, or are you assessing his or her cultural fit? The answer to each of these questions can lead you down slightly different social media paths. Having a clear objective will also ring true in the ears of candidates when they turn around and ask, “Why did you look at my [insert site name] profile?”
Understand the context.
What social media is applicable to your company and/or the role you are recruiting for? Match this tothe social media you are accessing to learn about your candidate. If you are researching candidates for a top marketing role, you probably want to understand the various tools they use to speak with customers today, and in this case, tapping into multiple social media sites makes sense. On the other hand, you may find the Facebook page of a chemical engineer not at all relevantto the role.
Consider your candidates’ social media footprint.
Just because you have found a candidate’s LinkedIn profile does not mean he or she is an active user or even understands the current privacy settings. Given the changes in privacy settings over the years, some LinkedIn users may not even know you can see their profile in the first instance.
On the flip side, subject matter experts on Twitter may expect you have seen their various social media contributions. A candidate with 12 LinkedIn connections from a current employer should be handled very differently from a LinkedIn Open Networker (LION). LIONs are completely open tomaking LinkedIn connections and are likely to have hundreds or thousands of people in their network. Similar to subject matter experts on Twitter, LIONs will likely expect that you have seen their profile. In contrast, tread carefully with candidates with a small social media footprint.
Ease into the social media conversation.
We all know speaking live with a person, or better yet looking at the whites of their eyes, is more valuable than the information on all social media sites put together. When you do speak with candidates, particularly when you are reaching for inactive candidates, ease into the conversation to feel out their view on how much information you should know about them. It may be tempting to launch into the killer question—“Why did you move from Genevato London in 2002 when the markets were terribly volatile?” —but hold off for a bit and allow the conversation to develop. You will gain much more insight into your candidates by gaining their trust first, as opposed to diving into a question they may view as off-putting at best.
Default to the Golden Rule.
When in doubt, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The simple rule of social graces going back centuries is always a good default position. Put yourself in their shoes. If you are still uncertain, ask colleagues or friends their opinion on the creepiness factor. It is best to proceed carefully rather than risk alienating the perfect candidate you took the time to research.