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The social interview: a case study

Recruiters and employers are using social media to screen job applicants on a daily basis. Employers are Googling, Facebooking and checking tweets, walls, status updates and photos of prospective employees, including their Linkedln accounts, as a first step in recruiting.

From this new employment practice, the concept of the social interview was born.

The social interview is an idea that advertising agency R/GA implemented to interview friends of job candidates in their recruiting and selection process when looking for “innovative and creative thinkers.” The company’s website explains:

As a part of the application process for the R/GA internship program, we’ll be posting questions on your Facebook wall for your friends to answer. First, you’ll apply through our Jobvite site. Next, when you’re ready, you’ll connect with us and view three questions. Then, we’ll post the three questions on your wall. (Don’t worry; it’ll be fun. Trust us.)

Note that candidates can opt in or out of this component of the selection process. However, is it really optional? If you decline to participate, does that mean you are not an “innovative and creative thinker” and not the candidate they are looking for?

Taking this concept out of the case study, it involves an employer obtaining permission from a job candidate to post three interview questions on their Facebook wall to obtain feedback from the candidate’s friends on the candidate. The goal is to get social references or recommendations to obtain a better picture of who the candidate is before you hire them.

It is not a concept that I am very comfortable with; in fact I find it very disturbing. For many Facebook users—probably the majority—not all of the people they are connected with are actually friends. Well I hope you know that! What if you’re so called Facebook “friends” start posting defamatory or unflattering comments about you in answer to these social interview questions? Even as a joke, such a response could have disastrous results.

Also, do all your friends know how you work and how you would perform your job, or act in a professional context?

Facebook was created to share personal information, to reconnect with family and friends and to share special moments, and not to be used as a job reference on your ability to do your job or a reflection to be a good fit for a company.

Many would consider this as a breach of privacy, crossing the line between the workplace and your home life.

Can Facebook really tell you the quality of person you are hiring? Well it seems that many employers think that looking at your Facebook page before inviting you for an interview will provide them with a fairly accurate reflection of how good you’ll be at the job.

I would love to know what you think of this concept and if it is something you would implement in your recruiting and selection process.

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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3 thoughts on “The social interview: a case study
  • Adam Gorley says:

    I think this is one of those issues that shows a pretty strong generational divide.

    For my part, I don’t think it would bother me if a company asked a couple of questions on my facebook wall to get an idea of my fit for a job. In one sense, it is just an extension of checking character references. If an employer would call references, what’s the difference between that and talking with a prospective employee’s facebook friends (with the person’s permission, of course). I think it’s pretty smart actually. Since young people are so keen on social media, they will happily take part in a scheme like this.

    But I keep facebook strictly for people I know. That is, I don’t befriend people I don’t know. (To me, Twitter is where I follow or “friend” others.) So, I wouldn’t be too concerned about someone saying something bad about me in response to a question from a prospective employer.

    But perhaps the better forum for such a practice would be linkedin, which is specifically aimed at professional activity.

    Of course, this is a different issue than the recent question of whether an employer has the right to ask an applicant for her facebook credentials so the employer can look through their account. That is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, plain and simple.

  • It is my opinion that employers need to lay off FB, unless the interaction is initiated by a prospective or current employee. Although I am not hiding anything per se, my profile is high on security measures because like you said, it is for personal purposes that do not or should not have any relevance to one’s job searching activities.

    I consider it a breach of privacy as well, and as much as I love social media, I always separate overly personal accounts from semi-to-fully professional ones. There is little available on FB that could give an indication of how good or poor a worker I am. This is just another one of those initiatives that wasn’t completely thought through, and I certainly wouldn’t implement anything like it if I were a recruiter.

  • Inga says:

    No, I deem Facebook as a place for identity theft. So I would not endanger a potential employee’s identity.