Thursday, April 25, 2024

HR companies running social media background checks on job applicants

If you are on social media or planning to get on it, you will definitely want to know about a sign-of-the-times hiring practice that could affect your future in the corporate world.

Jowitt Mbongwe, who is the Managing Director of Global Consult, a management consulting firm based in Gaborone, says that it has become standard practice nowadays to mine the rich deposits of social media in order to determine the suitability of job applicants during the recruitment process. There are very legitimate reasons to do so. The example that Mbongwe gives is of applicants for a nanny’s job. Naturally, the CV will be free of blemishes but given what is at stake (the welfare of children), Mbongwe says that it is vital to prevent making a “bad hire.” Under such circumstances, it would be ideal to run a thorough background check on applicants by visiting the social media platforms they are on to collect the relevant information. In that way, the hiring company ensures that someone with a history of abusing children doesn’t get the job.

“The search could also cover the checking of negative information on such things as the private habits and judgement of the job candidate from such sites as Facebook or Twitter,” explains Mbongwe about this “new phenomenon” whose legal status is still indeterminate. “At times searches may cover posting of negative information on the candidate by third parties.”

While the legal status of these searches may be murky, Mbongwe believes that there are adequate ethical safeguards against abuse. He says that no premium should be placed on personal and other information that has no bearing on an applicant’s suitability for a job. The ideal situation for conducting these searches is one in which a company has developed a comprehensive policy that guides the recruitment process.

“Doing these searches without a policy can be very dangerous,” Mbongwe says.

He adds that employers have an obligation to warn employees and job applicants about researching social media activity. He stresses that “failure to inform job seekers could be perceived as an unfair recruitment practice and an invasion of privacy.”

Social media aside, Mbongwe decries unethical practice that some organisations have been known to use.

“What is worrying in Botswana is not the abuse of social media but general the lack of adherence to high standards of ethics by organisations. This includes using informal sources to gather information that is not credible about job candidates. This is seriously detrimental to both business interests and individual candidate interest. Lack of transparency in the process also enhances the poor ethical standards and illegality of recruitment practices,” he states.

Social media is a wild horse that some riders have not been able to break and in some cases the consequences can be disastrous. Last year, Harvard – which one of the most prestigious universities in the world – revoked admissions offers to 10 prospective members of the class of 2021 after discovering that they had traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat. At one point, the group was titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” Echoing sentiments no different from those of the current US president, one post called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “pi├▒ata time.” The revocation means that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is gone for good – all because of social media.


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