“Cyber-vetting”: social networks should not influence the hiring process

English has that ability to construct new words that very clearly represent new and emerging phenomena. Cyber ​​vetting is one of them. This is the practice, by employers, of investigating the online presence of candidates in interview processes to make the decision to hire them or not. In this practice, social media profiles and Google search results are usually checked to assess the candidate's online reputation. It is logical that this practice has grown over time. But that does not mean that it is a desirable or valid phenomenon; rather the opposite.

Cyber-vetting challenges

A study this year from North Carolina State University is conclusive: cyber-vetting can easily introduce bias and moral judgment into the hiring process. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 61 human resource professionals involved in recruiting and hiring across many industries. At the same time, study participants ranged from internal HR staff to recruiting consultants and professionals from HR agencies.

"One of the things that came up repeatedly was that cyber-vetting doesn't just judge people's behavior, but how that behavior is presented," says one of the study's authors, Amanda Damarin. “For example, one participant pointed out that his organization had no problem with employees drinking alcohol, but he did not want to see any photos of alcohol on social media of an employee (…) there is a big disconnect here. On the one hand, HR professionals view social media as an “authentic” version of who people really are; But those same HR professionals also require people to carefully select how they present themselves on social media.”

The truth is that recruiters who take this approach should exercise caution: much of what they find in the practice of cyber-vetting is information that they are ethically discouraged, or even legally prohibited from considering when evaluating recruiters. candidates. Furthermore, little of that information actually predicts performance. In that sense, due to fear of legal action, those who deal with the hiring process never mention the tweet or post that influenced the decision not to take the candidate. Because any decision to exclude a candidate that relates to their age, ethnicity, health, or gender could land a recruiter in serious trouble. Logically, this generates unethical conduct towards the candidate, who never knows the real reasons why he was not hired.

Transparency problems

The study also reports that it is occasionally unclear what job candidates can do to address concerns about bias in cyber-vetting. For example, while many study participants noted that posting a photo can create the potential for bias to affect the hiring process, other study participants noted that not having a "professional" profile photo is itself a "sign alert”.

“Some workers have a social media profile that sends the right signals and can take advantage of cyber-vetting,” says Steve McDonald, another of the paper's authors. “But for everyone else, not only are they at a disadvantage, they don't even know they're at a disadvantage, let alone why they're at a disadvantage. Because they don't necessarily know what employers are looking for.”

Some final conclusions

The study posits, as one of the key takeaways from the paper, that there needs to be clear guidelines or best practices for the use of cyber-vetting, if it is to be used at all. In other words: if the practice is already in place, it is important to make it transparent to balance the asymmetry and establish criteria that eliminate bias. Another fundamental conclusion is that the prejudices and moral judgments that exist in human resources professionals end up being incorporated into software programs designed to automate the review of job candidates. In that sense, these biases will simply be fed into the algorithms, which will end up making these programs a long-term problem for both organizations and job seekers.