Expert: Use jobseekers' Facebook profiles objectively

Germany's proposal to bar Facebook checks on jobseekers reignites online privacy debate and highlights need for open, honest communication between employers and potential hires, says Singapore HR professional.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

If Germany had its way, human resource (HR) managers might soon be barred from digging out information on job candidates from Facebook and can refer only to publicly accessible information on work-oriented social sites such as LinkedIn. Last month's proposal by the deutsch government to protect the individual's privacy is just as relevant to Singapore, said one HR expert.

David Ang, executive director of Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI), told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that Germany's latest push for online privacy, though addressing hire practices, is not a topic alien to the city-state, which has over two million Facebook users. This is because the crux of the matter is tied to the larger issue of privacy in the online domain and how something "private and confidential" can stay that way.

Zooming in on the theme of recruitment assessment, Ang said a major factor regarding privacy is that employers and jobseekers alike must be "fair and balanced...handle the situation responsibly, and be honest". This entails open and honest communication between both sides when it comes to screenings.

Online profile not full picture
SHRI's Ang said that while there are legitimate means to find out more about someone online, it's also a matter of what you do with the information after you retrieve it. That is, an employer should take it in with a responsible perspective, he added. The purpose should be "clear-cut and known to both parties--is it because [the employer wants] to know the [jobseeker's] other competencies, his hobbies?"

The main idea, Ang explained, is "to discuss as well as use the information in an objective light".

Ang added that employers should not be "myopic" in deciding whether to hire or write off potential recruits based simply on their online profile. Any good human resource personnel will know what to make of a candidate, and "reading a person's Facebook profile doesn't exactly tell you much about his work performance, track record or competencies".

Vice president of Chinese online video site Tudou, Anita Huang, said her company "has no major recruiting initiatives" on social-networking sites. It does "minimal social media recruiting" which is limited to a few tech forums or community sites when recruiting engineers.

Tan Ai Sim, HR director of Lenovo ASEAN, concurred. She said that "being an international company with employees across the globe, Lenovo has a robust and diverse recruitment strategy that includes a variety of screening mechanisms". While the company is "evaluating the use of social network services as a viable tool to screen candidates", she added that it is "just one component among many others" and that it is "proportional to the level and experience of the candidate".

Singapore's Ministry of Manpower declined comment on the matter.

Discretion the better part of moderation
Jobseekers also have a part to play in maintaining online privacy, said SHRI's Ang, who added that one must be fully "aware of the potential risks and exposure" that can occur from posting private or personal details online.

If the information gets scrutinized, there should not be any finger pointing since taking responsibility for one's actions and the consequences following are not lost on the average Web user, he added. "Nothing in digital space can really remain private after all."

Recently-hired marketing executive Anastasia Tan said it is not just Facebook that is subject to screening. "Employers can always choose to google potential candidates" before an interview, she pointed out, adding that Facebook users should keep their profiles "clean" and tweak their settings to private for "communicating with their social circle only".

Echoing similar sentiments, Ang believes Facebook's social-networking intentions should remain as a medium to share interests among likeminded people, and not as "a platform for you to offer yourself to a job, or for recruiters to do checks on jobseekers' backgrounds".

Facebook for job search
That said, for some, the social media presents job opportunities. Co-director of digital production house Funhouse, Colin Smith, said his company "posts project requirements online quite regularly, be it scouting for talents or cameramen for events. Many respondents send us links directing to their online sites. For them, social media tools like Facebook are ways to promote themselves and [showcase] their latest works".

A Singapore Telecommunications' (SingTel) spokesperson pointed out that in a Web 2.0 world where information is widely available online, the company does leverage social media sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to "know our candidates better". These sources, according to her, complement formal interviews and reference checks. The spokesperson added that candidates sometimes "invite us to check out their online creations, such as blogs, as an additional reference for their communication, Web technology and other skills".

On this, Ang said that if one wants to use social media to market [their] services and skills, they ought to do it freely as their purpose and reasons are well-defined. Ultimately, the HR expert concluded that it harks back to whether interested employers believe what they read on Facebook and can verify the capabilities and competencies of the potential job candidate whether these are authentic or exaggerated, online or otherwise.

Editorial standards