Fame at last!  Whincup, D. appears in the bibliography of a recent ACAS Research Paper into “Workplaces and Social Networking – the implications for employment relation”, hooray!.  Aside obviously from its reference to me, the Paper is primarily notable for the details it provides of a survey conducted by MyJobGroup http://www.myjobgroup.co.uk/.  One thousand individual respondents were asked how they felt about the 27% of UK employers who access candidates’ social media profiles as part of their recruitment process.   

According to the survey, over 30% of those surveyed said that they would be “very angry or outraged” by the discovery that they had been refused an interview or a job because of something on their social media profile.  A further 28% would be merely “angry” and nearly a quarter more of the respondents would find rejection on that basis “frustrating and unfair”.  So that left only a small minority, scarcely into double figures, accepting that such access was a legitimate recruitment tool.   

But why do such a large proportion of those interviewed would think it not appropriate?  You can talk about privacy issues indefinitely, but the argument that you should be entitled to privacy in respect of any of the more embarrassing parts of your personal life which you yourself have taken steps to put into the public domain is surely pretty naïve.  Objecting to employers accessing social media profiles does not credit them with any ability not to make discriminatory decisions or to distinguish between the partially-clad candidate propping up a lamppost on the Costa del  Whatever and his doing so in Threadneedle Street.  One is just not relevant and the other is.   

The TUC’s Worksmart website (http://www.worksmart.org.uk/) claims it to be bad practice and “to undermine equality of opportunity in recruitment” for employers to use social networking sites in this way – it argues that the employer will then know more about some candidates than others.  This is, with great respect, utter nonsense.  There is nothing unlawful or improper in the employer having varying degrees of knowledge about its candidates – the applicant’s own CVs, application forms and interview answers will always vary in quality and detail anyway.   

Over 80% of the respondents to the survey said that employers should not judge job applicants based on their social media profile.  At the same time, however, a full third of them acknowledged that an employer could indeed gain an accurate picture of the employee’s character in that way.  So why should an employer deliberately limit its own access to potentially relevant information about a candidate if obtaining that information is quick, free and lawful?  After all, on occasion the social media profile will give much greater insight into a candidate’s real character than any amount of pre-rehearsed interview wittering about his passion, leadership and team-playing skills.  If you are not bright enough to realise that your social media profile is potentially public (as might be discerned from the words “social”, “media” and “profile”, frankly), and to shape it accordingly, you should probably not expect to get the job.