Essential Dos and Don’ts of Candidate Social Media Screening

Important takeaways from this blog: 

  • Social media screening can reveal red flags
  • Wait until after the interview to look people up
  • Watch out for unconscious bias.

What is social media screening? Social media screening for employment is when recruiters comb through a prospective new hire’s online presence, seeing if it reveals anything. This form of social media background check might not turn up anything useful — or it could uncover serious problems with a candidate. How can employers use this tool responsibly? 

Do: Either Screen Everyone or No One

It’s important to treat all candidates equally, so recruiters must be consistent when performing a social media background check. If they screen one candidate applying for a position, they should screen everyone applying for that job — this is critical to avoid bias. 

Recruiters can decide which positions need to be screened. For some organizations, the best policy might be to conduct a social media background check for all job openings. Other companies may decide to screen only candidates applying for senior positions or jobs in certain departments.

Hiring officials should also use a consistent process, such as using the same search engine and from the same IP address, to look through people’s profiles. Doing so ensures the same type of search results will pop up every time. 

Don’t: Request Access to Private Accounts

In the U.S., it is illegal in 27 states to request access to a private social media account. Hacking into private accounts is also a crime, not to mention a massive breach of trust that could spoil the relationship with a candidate if they find out. Therefore, recruiters should only browse publicly available social media profiles they can find on their own. 

Hiring officials can rely on a thorough background check, if necessary, to reveal details about a person’s criminal history, driving records and employment history. As with social media screenings, it’s crucial to either run a background check on all candidates or skip this step altogether. Employers must get a written permission from candidates before conducting a background check. 

Do: Have a Goal in Mind

What is social media screening going to accomplish? Recruiters should first decide what they want to find in a person’s profile rather than scrolling through it aimlessly. The person in charge of screening social media accounts should be knowledgeable about each position’s required skills, education, personality traits and experience before conducting a search. 

Hiring officials can look for whether a candidate’s values align with those of the company or they can use social media to cross-check a candidate’s resume. They should also have the idea of what they aren’t looking for before browsing a person’s online account. 

Don’t: Check a Profile Before the Interview

It’s a good idea for recruiters to perform an interview first and check the candidate’s social media account later. Although most people consider themselves unbiased, a social media page can prompt unconscious judgments about a person’s likeability or capacity to work. 

A U.S. study found that out of the 70% of employers who research candidates on social media, over 50% of them have chosen not to hire a candidate based on something they found online. Although illegal, recruiters may choose not to hire someone with a medical condition under the assumption they won’t be fit enough to work.They may screen out candidates of a different gender or religious background because they think these applicants won’t mesh well with the team.

People may also form snap judgments about candidates based on their hobbies, whether they swear and the amount and types of photos they post online. However, a formal interview should always be the first step toward hiring someone. Social media screening for employment should merely supplement the process. 

Do: Look for Red Flags

What is social media screening if not a way to look for red flags? Although the line between personal and professional can be blurry on social media, the way a person conducts themselves online does offer clues about their personality. 

Recruiters shouldn’t take posts about criminal history, sexism, racism and other offensive topics lightly — they could foreshadow future problems in the workplace. Disparaging jokes at the expense of other people hints at a poor maturity level and difficulty getting along with others. 

Similarly, provocative photos, references to substance misuse or posts about always fighting with co-workers or managers should sound a few alarm bells. Hiring officials should be wary of anyone who gossips or goes on a tirade about their company online. Candidates who divulge workplace information or trade secrets will likely continue this bad habit at their new job. 

Don’t: Give a Profile Too Much Weight

There were over 4.59 billion social media users worldwide in 2022, making it a great place to look when evaluating a candidate. However, a person’s online profile doesn’t always reflect how they act in real life. They may convey a silly, carefree persona online but conduct themselves professionally at work. Therefore, recruiters performing a social media background check shouldn’t dismiss people based entirely on their online presence — barring the exception of major red flags. 

Things like poor spelling, frequent posting or negative reviews of local restaurants might be unprofessional, but keep in mind it’s a social media page after all, not a LinkedIn profile. Social media is often a place where people show their personal side and discuss things that bother them with friends and family. Recruiters should take it with a grain of salt. 

Do: Use Social Media Screening for Employment Only

What is social media screening used for outside the job search? Ideally, nothing. Hiring officials should only use social media screening for the employment process, not to connect with people they might want to befriend. Employers should maintain professionalism by not sending private messages or friend requests to candidates. 

For job seekers, receiving a friend request from a potential employer puts them in an uncomfortable position. If they don’t accept the request, they risk coming across as rude. 

However, if they do accept the request, they have two choices. They can either go over their entire online presence with a fine-tooth comb to delete anything potentially incriminating, or they can let their potential employer see everything they’ve posted — yes, even the angsty band lyrics they posted when they were 14. 

Don’t: Look for Irrelevant Info

In the EU, employers may only screen social media if the profiles contain information relevant to job performance. Whether a candidate prefers cats or dogs isn’t usually relevant to the recruitment process. Everyone has personality quirks and opinions unrelated to their career, so recruiters should try to overlook these qualities. 

Traits like age, race and gender are almost always irrelevant to a person’s qualifications for a position, barring a few exceptions for jobs like acting roles or military service. Recruiters should be careful not to dismiss job seekers based on protected characteristics, or they can risk opening themselves up to lawsuits.

What Is Social Media Screening Good For?

A social media background check has become a useful tool for recruiters. It lets HR leaders get a better sense of a candidate’s personality, helping determine if that person would be a good fit for the job. Although employers must be careful to use social media screening for employment in an ethical way, the process can reveal valuable information that makes or breaks an applicant’s spot on the team. 


Author: Zachary Amos, Features Editor at ReHack

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