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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can Your "Social Presence" Get You Hired?

Nice to see where our tax dollars are going...
I guess that the internet is changing how people think about hiring, at least according to this WSJ article.

Companies interested in your "social presence" as well as your ability, or, worse, just in your "social presence."  The article describes how one company uses the "web" to determine if a potential employee is a "good social fit" for his company.

There's another description of a woman who compiled "... a profile comprising her personal blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, and links to social-media sites Delicious and Dopplr, which showed places where she had traveled" in order to get a job.

(I guess I won't be getting "hired" anytime soon...  "Why does he have a long beard?"  "He makes small children cry when they see him!"  My blog says far to much about me for that!)

To me this really doesn't seem to be about working at all.  Instead it sounds much more like "we have an exclusive social club" and we only want people "like us" to work here.  People seem to be less interested in raw talent or ability (which may be masked by social ineptitude) than "sameness."

One of the things I learned over many years of hiring and firing (at one time I owned a mailing company with fifty full time people) is that no amount of interviewing will ever really tell you about what another person is like.  Though to that extent I have to agree that "looking elsewhere" for information on people is good.

But there's a problem with that. 

What if I find things about someone I don't like but are illegal to use in making a hiring decision?  Certainly I don't want trouble from the EEOC...

So what if I look over your social profiles and discover your a satanist or into death metal?  Satanism's a legitimate religion (I suppose) these days.  Or maybe you just like to sing about killing people... Should I hire you to help out at my daycare? 

Can you sue me if I don't?

People create a lot of "fake" information about themselves on the web for many reasons: to impress the opposite sex, to stoke their own vanities, and so on.  Really, what place does using material like that have to do with realtime kernal programming in C++?

Not much, I'm afraid.

Of course I am biased coming from a background were "the geekier the better" generally rules.  Though I suppose in geek-driven environment would search for the "opposite" - oh oh, I can't hire you because you have a nice social profile!  Look, you're wearing clean clothes in that picture!  You're hair is combed...?

Then there is the issue of "bias."

If I hire people who think "differently" than me I might gain insight into things - "oh, I never thought about it that way..."  If I only hire people who think "like" me then things will be great so long as I have the right vision - and its likely that no one I hire would thing outside the box - even if things were going wrong.

This seems to me to be a sort of natural form of "discrimination."

People will hire only the most "attractive" people.  Wow! So-and-so is really hot... Call that one in.

And certainly in the past like-minded folks got themselves into trouble in hiring.

There is also the issue of "hacked accounts."  Oh, those racist or sexually suggestive comments on my Facebook aren't really mine, my account was hacked... (Right.)  Except now there is no hope of employment.  (On the other hand, no one can "hack" a paper resume...)

Personally I think places like "linkedin" are a joke - sites for job seekers to "collaborate" looking for work and whine about the fact they have none.  Shameless self-promoters vying for your attention.

Right now there aren't enough jobs. 

The current "debt economy" has created a huge surplus of millions of workers, particularly in the realms where things like Facebook are popular, i.e., with young people.  So this kind of nonsense I suppose makes sense to those using it.

"How do I weed out serious people and find people who are 'just like me...' "

No thanks.

I want people to question me as a boss.  I might make mistakes.  I might not see the best solution.  I might forget something.  If all my employees are "yes men" (or I suppose "yes persons") then what will happen to me when I make bad decisions?

Everyone will agree...

True diversity is a good thing, particularly in work environments, because it makes the work product better.  Why?  Different perspectives make it possible to see problems or make improvements that might not otherwise be noticed or made.

But I don't think social sameness makes for a "good thing" at work...

Of course, I'm an old geezer who thinks work is, well, work.  I want to hire people that know how to do their jobs and work since my work is not socially based.  For the most part I could care less what else they do so long as its not a problem that comes to roost at my door step.

If your social agenda is so overwhelming that you can't do anything else (like work) you're not much use...

From a social media perspective its hard to assess someone's "work ethic."  Certainly one can be committed to a "cause" - but that doesn't mean they actually work, as in labor, at it...

At the end of the day this social presence work stuff is all nonsense. 

The world is a complex, dangerous place and using nonsense like "social media" to steer your workplace future is going to be fraught with danger.  Its hard enough to make a living these days without this kind of think mucking up the waters.

Its discriminatory.

Its lame.


  1. This is a very interesting article. On one hand, I can see the benefits of using social media to screen applicants. If you look at someone's online profiles you can get an idea of their interests, what causes they support, and their general public image. For some types of jobs, for instance a PR person, you do want to make sure the applicant can project a good social image, looks good (well dressed, well groomed), is articulate, etc.

    However, there is the other side of the coin, where SOME HR people might start looking for "hot" applicants, or just superficial things - like "OMG they are so perfectly hipster looking! I should totally interview them!"

    It is difficult to tell someone's work ethic just by looking at a social profile, so I think if social media and online profiles has a place in the hiring process, it should be relatively minor. It should just be one step in a broader process that fully tests the aptitude, education, creativity, personality and work ethic of the individual.

    1. My implied point is that once you glimpse something online that strongly suggests something that sticks in your mind, good or bad, your objectivity is over. (See my previous posts related to Kahneman and "System 1".)

      Its subliminal and not something easy to consciously control. It will also reflect any internal bias you may have.

      So once this becomes institutionalized there will be problems...