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Losing face over Facebook

Published on Friday, 07 Sep 2012
Illustration: Bay Leung
Stuart Hedley

By creating new attitudes and opportunities, social media platforms are obliging companies around the world to rethink their approach to basic business processes. Areas such as sales, marketing and PR stand out as obvious examples.

But the methods and immediacy of the online community are also having an impact on the recruitment cycle, with newer forums changing the way information about candidates is sourced and shared.

Results from the latest Global Assessment Trends Report compiled by HR consultancy firm SHL highlight these developments. In taking a closer look at the use of social media when hiring in China, the research threw up interesting contrasts between the mainland market and current practises elsewhere.

One key finding, gauged against global feedback, was that fewer HR professionals in China have set up career pages or social media sites as a specific recruitment tool. But mainland respondents (57 per cent) indicated greater willingness to allow hiring managers to review candidates’ social media postings than the international sample (45 per cent).

What emerged is that employers in China may be comparatively slow off the mark in establishing corporate profiles and advertising jobs on Facebook, Renren or the like. There is, though, less reticence about making personal data gleaned from such sites a standard, if informal, part of the assessment process.

The stated interests, comments and “likes” on an applicant’s personal page are seen as a valid additional source of pre-hiring information. Whether that is a positive development or should spark concerns about privacy is a matter sure to stir endless debate.

Notably too, nearly 50 per cent of Chinese replies to the survey said a main reason for accessing social media sites was to examine photos of candidates. This compares with only 26 per cent for the global responses and suggests appearance still has a bearing on mainland hiring decisions.

“The level of interest in photos was a surprise to us,” says Stuart Hedley, managing director for SHL in Hong Kong. “When you think about what people write on their Facebook pages and how pictures on a social media site get tagged, this is potentially a massive can of worms. Candidates may be willing to share information with friends, but you have to wonder if they know what is being put in the public domain.”

Increasingly, employers see such data as readily available and something which adds a useful extra dimension to the review process. An applicant’s résumé and personal statement, especially if guided by a recruitment consultant, can paint a picture of perfection. Therefore, candidates after a good job and decent pay package can hardly be surprised if their musings and antics on blogs, clips and self-promotional websites also come under the scrutiny of a switched-on potential employer.

“Who knows where this will all go?” Hedley says. “At the moment, social media is riding the crest of a wave. It is the latest wonderful craze, but I honestly don’t think people have sat down and thought through the consequences.”

Nothing guarantees, of course, that comments or “likes” on a personal site are any more or less reliable than those made elsewhere. The individual concerned may simply be trying to fit in socially by posting data which other people supposedly want to see.

Also, the fact that someone is, say, an accountant by day and a rock singer or biker at weekends is not necessarily an employment matter.

“It is an interesting concept to think social media offers a short cut for recruiters,” Hedley says. “Our advice to clients, though, is to realise the advantages and merits of a scientifically robust recruitment system.”

This, he stresses, should be competency-based and have vigorous, defensible criteria. There should be agreed predictors of performance, which are behavioural, along with valid psychometric assessments. Taking things at face value or looking for “insights” on Facebook is clearly at odds with such an approach.

“We don’t encourage employers to look at social media [for information about a candidate],” Hedley says. “And if we are asked to give advice to graduates as part of a selection process, we remind them that, as soon as they post something, it is in the public domain. It is then ‘open season’, so they should consider who will see it and how it could be used.”

As markets and business practices in China continue to develop, one sign of increasing maturity will be how they hire and train top-quality staff capable of holding their own in the international arena.

“If mainland companies want to compete on a global platform, they need to improve their recruitment processes in order to attract and retain talent,” Hedley says. “That means having a clear competency framework to enhance HR, and making better use of psychometric testing. There are some good organisations in China, but there is definitely room to improve the pre- and post-hire process.”

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