Blurred Lines in Social Hiring Practices

This week a brief Twitter debate about hiring practices sparked the idea for this post. One of the concepts I teach the companies I work with is the concept of the social company, and the ethics that go into becoming a truly social company. When you can use social media to find out anything about anyone, where do you draw the line?

One of my Twitter connections wanted to spark a discussion on unique hiring practices. His tweet about doing Spouse Interviews for new hires to find out about their personal lives happened to catch my eye, and I felt compelled to reply. Setting aside the legal ramifications of this practice, the ethical ramifications loom large to me. Everyone deserves to be able to separate work and life.

We’re in an age of dwindling privacy; of purposeful transparency and all of the ramifications of that lying under the surface as we march forward online playing our games, creating things, listening to music or watching movies, blogging, connecting to brands and people, and connecting to friends.

Even as I love the optimistic potential of the new technology landscape for health, connection, education, creativity and more, I am concerned with the divergence between that optimism and the positive ramifications of these technologies and the blurred ethical lines from people in positions of power. It’s not OK for an employer to require a Facebook password anymore than invading a potential employees life with a spousal interview is (and don’t get me started on the lack of understanding of the internet and these technologies in government that lead us to things like CISPA).

When hiring and looking to verify education, experience or other facts online, the same rules apply there as in the real world. It’s just that simple. This causes some interesting issues in an age where people can be careless with their privacy – posting public photos of their weekend warrior lifestyle or airing their private opinions in a way that becomes public (Facebook posts have led to several firings in recent years, and have become a common cause of divorces and other problems).

I’d love to hear from human resource managers, CEOs and others out there who are struggling with this new fire hose of information about potential employees at all levels. What kind of ethical decisions is this introducing into your company that you didn’t face before? Have you put policies in place to guide folks through this aspect of hiring in a tech age? Do you move forward assuming that if the person didn’t remember to set a privacy setting it “makes it ok” to use that info to make a decision? I’d love to get a dialogue going about this with you.

To spark your discussion, below is the conversation I had on Twitter that got my brain turning about this in more depth than just advising clients that professional social media sites like LinkedIn and professional blogs were great places for vetting employees but that personal social media sites are a touchier area.


  1. JP Burke April 28, 2012

    It’s none of an employer’s business what I do in my private life until it impacts my professional life. The word “until” means being given the benefit of the doubt. The word “doubt” means it will have to remain a mystery to them. It’s simple respect for your employees and coworkers.

    Don’t work for people who don’t understand respect.

  2. Kirk April 29, 2012

    Business and Personal life needs to be separated. Everyone has stuff going on in their lives.  Some people have parents who are sick, others have children that sick, does Keith Rogers screen for that?  This kind of behavior basically sets the tone for how the working relationship between the employee and the employer will be.

  3. Aubrey April 30, 2012

    Your conversation with the Twitter contact praising spousal interviews has me seeing red. As someone who went through a divorce while keeping that part of my life separate from my work, I don’t see why my personal business would have anything to do with my professional life. Wow.

    I obviously believe in a separation of personal and professional lives, if you couldn’t tell. My time at home is my own.

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