Social analytics for recruitment inaccurate, breaches privacy

Social networks reveal only certain aspects of job candidate's personality and use to assess employability may intrude individual's privacy, note industry observers.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

The use of social analytics to assess job candidates is unreliable as it does not show the candidate's full personality traits and may be deemed an intrusion on an individual's personal life, social and recruitment experts point out. They advise that such tools should be used in conjunction with other recruitment tactics.

A study on Journal of Applied Social Psychology last month found that social network pages of job applicants were good predictors of how well they might fit into an organization. Researchers said they could accurately assess, based on an analysis of the Facebook posts of 500 people, how a job candidate scored in the "Big Five" personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

The study noted that if social network can provide an evaluation of how well a person will do in a particular job, employers should use such platforms as the first screen in the interview process.

However, Brantology CEO Eddie Chau cautioned that using a candidate's social media activity to assess their suitability can be "tricky".

He explained that while social media activity may point to certain aspects of a person's character, it should not be used as the sole indicator of whether a person will fit into an organizational structure.

Chau said: "Information presented on social media often does not provide evidence of a person's personality flaws because people are careful about how they present themselves to their friends.

"As such, social information should only be treated more as a 'good to know thing' [in recruitment]," he said.

Furthermore, candidates who better understand the social media scene can also "adjust" their activities on such platforms, making use of social analytics for recruitment pointless, he pointed out.

True to Chau's observations, Peter Noblet, regional director of IT at Hays, pointed to a survey his company conducted to determine whether applicants altered their social media habits while job hunting. It found that 54 percent of respondents edited privacy settings and about 11 percent said they untagged pictures and edited content on their social media pages.

Lin Surong, a Singapore-based civil servant, told ZDNet Asia that while she would allow her potential employers to see her social media profile to gauge if she was a suitable candidate, she would "clean up" her page by "getting rid of unsightly photos and inappropriate comments".

Privacy a barrier for social analytics
Chau also warned that using social analytics for recruitment can trigger concerns about user privacy, noting that candidates will feel companies are "unjustifiably" basing their judgments on a person's social media activities.

He added that such sentiments have worsened, especially with Facebook's recent statement that it will take action against employers that ask for a candidate's password and with the upcoming Data Protection Act in Singapore.

Elaborating, Hays' Noblet observed that many job seekers also believed their personal life should not be confused with their work life and as such, social media profiles should not be used as part of the decision-making process in recruitment.

Chau said: "The interview process should not be cheapened by digging up other information that may be completely unrelated to a person's work. Privacy of individuals is of paramount importance."

Twitter user @asian_angel stated that she would not allow prospective employers to access her social media profiles. "That would truly cross an ethical barrier and be an excessive violation of [my] personal privacy," she said.

Jodie Ong, a Singapore-based marketing executive, also said she was uncomfortable with letting her employer view her social media accounts.

"Just like how people don't reveal their personal lives during interviews, I wouldn't want my prospective employers snooping at my Facebook or Twitter account," Ong said.

Must not be used on its own
Noblet surmised that social analytics must not be used on its own but as part of the overall recruitment process, along with face-to-face interviews, tests, background checks, and other proven methods of determining a candidate's likely performance in a job and their organizational fit.

Elaborating, Leonard Tan, CEO of PurpleClick Media, noted that similar to other data analytics, there will also be possible deviations in social analytics and such tools do not promise 100 percent accuracy in the results generated.

Tan suggested it should be used instead to complement traditional HR analytics so that the error rate would be lower, compared to reliance on one particular type of analytics.

Noblet advised that in-person interviews must still remain central to recruitment processes to obtain an accurate assessment of a candidate.

"Taking the time to get to know someone face-to-face is still crucial in identifying the right role for them, and behavioral-based questions will allow you to better predict performance and cultural fit. Looking at Facebook Pages will not," he said.

Calvin Siew, co-director of digital marketing firm Omnifluence, also told ZDNet Asia that reviewing social media accounts is only one part of his company's recruitment process and used only as an additional channel to interviews and written tests.

"We feel that social analytics has limited accuracy with their personality evaluation," Siew said. "They are only great for finding out the personality of extroverts, which is never going to be hard in the first place."

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