What are the benefits and drawbacks of using social networking when considering a candidate?

Social networking is one of the fast­est growing segments of the Web. If you are looking to hire, it is a tool that can provide a variety of data points on a candidate from several different perspectives.

Social networks can help you locate great candidates. One of our most recent hires was someone I found through my connection on two social networks (Twitter and Facebook). My connection wrote about a person skilled in the e-mail marketing space. After reading the post, I immediately contacted them. Within 24 hours, the candidate had a first interview and was headed to Chicago for a face-to-face meeting. You have to be part of the conversation to learn about some of the best candidates as soon as they become available.

Participation in social networks tells you something about the techni­cal sophistication of the candidate. I often ask candidates about which social networks they participate in. If they are clueless about the question, it lets me know they are not well plugged into the technological landscape. If they name off 20 different networks like Ning, Plurk, Capazoo and others, they may be a bit too social unless you are hiring for a social networking job.

Finally, social networks can be very revealing about a candidate. They can tell you a lot about their past and groups they participate in (i.e. LinkedIn), or their interests or types of conversations they are a part of (i.e. Twitter or Facebook).

If you are a candidate, be careful of what you write. There is an old saying that goes, “Don’t do anything that you would be embarrassed to have your mother see.” The new version should be, “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to read.”

So before you point out pictures of the holiday party on your Facebook page, make sure it isn’t one of you with a lampshade on your head.

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