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The use of social media in recruitment: Adrian Wakeling

Thursday 15 August 2013

Is there a lag between the development of new technology and the way we behave? When cars were invented, for example, not everyone sold their horse. This may, of course, have had something to do with the cost of a new car and the fear of running over the person carrying the red flag.
Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

Adrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

In current times, there are many people who resist the use of new technology, guarding the 'quiet carriages' on trains, desperate to escape the reach of emails and texts. But why, when social media offers a much cheaper method of recruiting staff, in a technological environment we are all increasingly familiar with, aren't employers using it more?

According to a recent report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, only 3% of UK businesses actively make use of social media for recruitment. Although many employers seem happy enough using social media for brand promotion, for example, they are still relying on more traditional forms of recruitment.  This is despite the fact that a recent European study showed that 100% of young job seekers would like communication with employers to take place more online.

Recent research commissioned by Acas on pdf icon The use of social media in the recruitment process [516kb] sheds some light on the possible reasons behind this behavioural lag on the part of employers. Employers, it seems, are not using social media for recruitment because they are satisfied with things the way they are, but also because they are concerned about privacy issues and are fearful of excluding candidates from the recruitment process.

In an era when equality and diversity are, rightly, regarded as bedrocks of good employment relations, this is perhaps laudable. The caveat to this is that, of the employers in the Acas poll embracing social media for recruitment, 34% said they did so in order to undertake screening and background checks on candidates - something the TUC, for one, are concerned can lead to discrimination.

But there is still a paradox at the heart of these findings - for many commentators social media offers greater freedom of speech and more democratic access to information and opportunities than ever before. And yet, we are not quite prepared to trust the new fangled ways. Clearly, at the moment, social media does not offer as level a playing field as we would like.

It is certainly true that social media may be very effective in targeting skilled and professional employees - the Acas research shows that LinkedIn is the most commonly used tool - but for employees in other, less skilled sectors it may not, as yet, be as relevant.

Employers instincts may well be right. Perhaps there needs to be greater clarity around how social media can and cannot be used, in all aspects of work, not just recruitment, and a greater understanding of how it can be made to work for all potential employees. Until this happens, we are unlikely to see a widespread take-up. In the short term, at least, it may be wise to hold on to your horses!

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