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Over the past few years, the popularity of social media has continued to increase. Not only are well known sites like Facebook and LinkedIn expanding with each new active user, but entirely new social networking sites continue to be created. These websites have evolved from their original purpose as a social connector with friends, to a valuable tool in a company’s recruitment process. Recruiters have been learning more ways to strategically use these sites in getting ahead of the competition, but in doing so they can find themselves at risk of legal question in comparing the information accessed online in relation to their hiring decisions.

A simple Google search of a candidate’s name or a visit to their Facebook and LinkedIn page can reveal a lot about the person, providing an inside look into their life that you normally wouldn’t see on traditional job applications and resumes. In a January 2010 report released by Microsoft, 79 percent of those hiring managers they had surveyed used social media and online searches in their hiring, and of those, 70 percent had actually chosen to reject candidates because of the information that they had found. Knowing how to use these websites efficiently without accessing information that could lead to possible discrimination claims is crucial in the hiring process. With all of the available information at your fingertips, it is important that when choosing to integrate social networking sites in the screening of a candidate that the search remains relevant and nondiscriminatory. Recruitment agencies that set up a policy to follow standards set up by organizations such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act for screening candidates will have effective results. They also will avoid any future legal question that could arise finding that them guilty of violating laws such as the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or others created to prevent discrimination in hiring.

In order to keep recruiting fair and avoid any question of a hiring decision there are a few key things to remember and techniques to have in place before searching the web. Establishing a strong recruitment policy along with prior education of these guidelines to those in charge of screening candidates (preferably someone who is not making the hiring decisions) is important. Making sure that these policies include what information can and cannot be included in making hiring decisions is vital in addition to creating a set list of what websites are to be used in accessing this information. Using social media to look into one candidate and not others puts recruiters in a questionable situation.  If  you choose to use social media to look into one candidate, it’s important that it is done with all others as well. Lastly, keeping documentation of all information to reference back to what was used in the recruitment process will be greatly beneficial to the company should any questions arise.

Social media is very valuable in the recruitment process when used correctly and integrated along with other screening tools. It has the ability to locate a large amount of possible candidates as well as provide valuable information. Those recruiters who are able to keep up with consistently changing social networking trends and have a strong knowledge of how to navigate these sites, position themselves above others; finding the best candidates possible, while staying clear of any potential discrimination claims.