Can you identify a bully before you recruit one?

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As a former branch manager for a recruitment agency I had mixed feelings about using the online social networks of candidates to find out more about their true personalities, but the temptation was just too great. I often found myself surfing the web looking for signs within candidates’ online social profiles that would somehow confirm their appropriateness for my client’s role, or was I trying to find some negative content that would put me off presenting the candidate to my client? 

Looking back, I’m really not sure what I was hoping to achieve. Occasionally I would find something really juicy in a profile and suddenly the candidate had lost, and I had won! But won what exactly? A Facebook picture, a sloppy comment on a blog, a negative posting showing their ‘true side’, and suddenly what could have been the perfect candidate under historic measures was now off the list.

Just like 70% of the recruiters and hiring managers we spoke to last year, I was simply searching a candidate online before agreeing to interview them, a process justified only by the phrase ‘because I can’. After all, the information was at my fingertips, publicly available on the web, and in most cases placed on there by the candidate themselves - it was fair game. More fool them if they don’t manage their activities, or so I used to think.

The temptation to view someone’s online social profile somehow outweighed the historic process - when companies would carry out references on new applicants; they would talk to former or current employers about that applicant’s reliability, attitude, personality, work ethic, and more. These days we are lucky to be able to confirm dates of employment when taking on someone new. It is very rare to be able to find out the truth behind an applicant’s experience, CV or what has been said at interview without first taking them on and then experiencing them for ourselves.

The social media devil had seduced me, and without clearer guidance from regulatory bodies, better clarity from employment legislation, and some kind of alternative approach for me to follow, the devil’s path was the only path, and it has to be said (whether you would admit it or not) most of us are currently walking this path.

It’s perfectly legal for you to read about a person on social media sites, but it divulges protected characteristics about them which could put you at risk of discriminating and may result in you missing out on the best talent due to subjective opinions.

Online social profiling – the compliant way

In 2012, I was delighted to find a compliant and legal way to action the process of online social profiling. It is entirely compliant with all UK legislation and offers a candidate evaluation tool that is far more accurate and ethical than the simple search engine searches I had been using. I was fascinated to discover that candidates were including their own online social profile results, on their CVs and LinkedIn profiles. Interestingly, these candidates seemed to be more successful in being invited for interviews. 

As a recruiter, I spent time talking with my clients from all industries about online social profiling and I was amazed how quickly they were able to recognise that screening new staff in a compliant way was more accurate and less time consuming than half-baked online searches.

Professional online social profiling removes the risk of discrimination in the recruitment process and therefore protects all parties involved - the candidate will not be unfairly excluded, the agency will not miss the best talent, and the employer will be presented with a candidate who has been assessed as the best all-round. The devil’s path is no longer the only path, in fact I found that the compliant application of information available on social media profiles complimented traditional recruitment methods.

One of the most valuable parts of professional online social profiling is that the results are able to go one step further than traditional processes and identify those candidates whose online cognitive styles lean towards all the traditional taboos for employers, for example bullying, harassment, racism, sexism or substance abuse. Research shows that there is a 67% likelihood that those showing these characteristics online will also demonstrate them in their physical workplace – your workplace! 

Choosing the wrong candidate is expensive. Online social profiling offers the potential for hard £££s savings - avoiding re-recruitment costs, wasted agency fees, poor service to customers, and disciplinary and legal procedures linked to the above characteristics which can run into many thousands of pounds.

A bully online is a bully in real life. My former clients feel that online social profiling is a much-needed response to the growing epidemic of expensive and irreversible mistakes that employees have made online. These mistakes frequently result in sackings, tribunals and unwanted media attention for their companies. HR and recruitment professionals have agreed for some time that a solution is needed to allow compliant use of online data – maybe online social profiling is the answer? I have yet to find a better solution. Online social profiling worked for me as a recruiter to find more suitable candidates, it works for my clients to reduce the risk of getting recruitment wrong and it works for my candidates to protect them from discrimination. The innovators behind online social profiling demonstrate that long-term application can identify areas of low morale, unhappy teams, unhappy management, unproductive employees, unsettled environments, sickness, absence, and more. In a time where employee engagement, communication and understanding are what drive our industry, online social profiling can really make a difference.

After learning more about online social profiling and seeing its results I now ask myself the question: ‘Why are so many recruiters still being seduced by the social media devil?’ 

I’d be interested in your feedback via Twitter - use the hash tag #onlinesocialprofiling or tweet me @SP_Index. Or contact me via LinkedIn –


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