Screening Candidates Through Social Media

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At this point, social recruiting is firmly ensconced in the toolboxes of most recruiters. Although it’s not the be-all and end-all of their work, more and more recruiters find social media provides them with a universe of qualified candidates that’s both wide in numbers and deep in specific skills. Used properly, and by taking advantage of tools such as Dice Open Web to search more efficiently, they can identify candidates who would never have otherwise made it onto their radar.

But social media can be an important part of the hiring process, even after a candidate has made it past the résumé review, telephone screen or even the first interview. Whether you’re a recruiter, HR professional or hiring manager, looking at the candidate’s online activity can provide you with a better idea about the depth of their skills and whether they’ll fit into your organization’s culture.

Torin Ellis, a human capital management strategist in Baltimore, believes the best approach to vetting candidates this way is to “look through two lenses.” One lens comes into play if the role in question is customer-facing. In that case, he evaluates how the candidate interacts with others online. The other lens is about their technical and business skills or, as Ellis puts it, “their knowledge of the space.”

The Customer-Focused Lens

Ellis emphasizes that “customers” can be internal as well as external, which makes sense as more tech firms increase their emphasis on soft skills. When looking at a candidate in this context, Ellis recommends following this course:

Stick to the top three to five platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Otherwise, you’ll be swamped with specialized or regional sites. In each case, look at the candidate’s posts and reputation. Ask yourself what the customer might think if they saw the same material you’re looking at.

Evaluate Behavior: Then dive a little deeper to see how other users perceive the candidate and the way they interact with others. “Remember, social media can be one-way—some people just post and don’t comment,” Ellis observed. “Either way, you can get a sense of what that person is like in real life.”

Are They Positive or Negative? “I’m always looking for posts that are derogatory, demeaning or bashing their employer,” Ellis said, though he hopes not to find them. “I don’t mind someone being combative, but if they’re divisive, that’s a red flag” to follow up on, possibly during a one-on-one conversation. “I’m not objecting to debating,” he said. “I’m objecting to incivility.”

Can all this help you get a feel for a candidate’s cultural fit? “Absolutely,” Ellis said. “You’re getting a sense of the person and how they interact. That can help you shape how interviews go, depending on what you see.” A candidate’s social media persona may not give you enough information to judge their cultural fit, he added, “but it can give you a prompt to dig deeper.”

The Business Lens

Ellis believes you can learn a lot about a person’s expertise by what they post and how they engage, especially on tech-focused sites such as GitHub or Stack Overflow. For example, their comments on other users’ projects can demonstrate whether they “can have an intelligent level of discourse” on both business and technical topics.

But each of these—as well as the dozens of sites and forums that cover everything from JavaScript to Python—have their own dynamics that you need to be familiar with. While GitHub makes it relatively easy to examine a candidate’s code, for example, there’s also “a lot of information if you look between the cracks,” Robert Fleischhauer, senior technology recruiter at the InSource Group in Dallas, told Dice previously.

For instance, following a candidate’s projects over time can help you identify areas of technical interest they may not have listed on their résumé or social-media profile. The downside there, of course, is that the long-term value conflicts with your need to hire someone now.

That said, the candidate’s activity level on tech-focused sites can tell you a lot about their enthusiasm for technology, their ability solve technical problems, and participate in discussions with other tech pros. When a developer creates an open-source tool on their own, fully documents it and posts it for all to see and test drive, they’re demonstrating their initiative and professional approach to technology, even outside the workplace. Or, of course, they may reveal sloppy habits in their coding and testing. Either way, examining their off-hours effort provides a good indication of how they’ll do their job.

Ellis believes that examining a candidate’s social media activity is just one part of his evaluation process. But studying how someone behaves on social media—developing relationships and contributing to the community—can tell you a lot about the person and their experience as you weigh whether you should add them to your team.

Image Credit: Bloomicon/Shutterstock.com

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