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Should Employers Use Social Media to Screen Job Applicants?

by | Dec 14, 2018 | applicant screening, Recruiting Best Practices, social media

A phone showing Facebook login screen and Scrabble tiles spelling "social media"If you use social media to screen applicants, you’re not alone. The Harris Poll conducted a national survey of hiring managers and HR professionals on behalf of CareerBuilder during the spring of 2018. The study revealed that 70 percent of employers now use social media sites to research applicants during the recruiting process.

Maybe you’re wondering why that number isn’t higher? After all, we live in an increasingly connected world where more and more people have social media accounts. Why not take advantage of that free peek into the personalities and characteristics of would-be employees? 

Social media screening has rewards, but it also carries risks. In this post, we’ll break down the pros and cons of using social media screening when hiring. Let’s get started!

The Benefits of Using Social Media to Screen Applicants

The information is free and easy to access on public profiles. One obvious benefit to reviewing job applicants’ social media presence is that the person’s details are often public and freely available for anyone to review. A quick search on a social network can quickly reveal a lot about a job seeker.

A social presence can give you a glimpse into what other people say about the applicant. Sites like LinkedIn give people the opportunity to recommend others. Testimonials on a person’s profile can give you insights about what a candidate may bring to the job.

A review of social media can help you weed out the bad apples. Unfortunately, some people have social profiles that are celebrations of poor judgment, bad decisions, criminal activity, and other generally bad behavior. Fortunately for you, you can see these behaviors and weed out applicants before you ever invite them in for an interview. 

The Risks of Using Social Media to Screen Applicants

Your decision-making could be unconsciously biased by what you see. Let’s say a candidate you screen via social media has a pretty clean profile. He loves sports, has a dog. Oh, he also mentions that he’s a member of a certain religion and is proud of his heritage.

Or what about the woman who just applied? Maybe you see her terrific profile plus the fact that she’s just announced that she’s pregnant. You know you can’t discriminate based on pregnancy, but you may still have had a little nagging thought of, “oh, she will go on maternity leave within the year if I hire her.” Unconscious bias can affect everyone from time to time.

If you wouldn’t (and you shouldn’t) ask questions during an interview that would require disclosure of the information mentioned above, then you need to carefully weigh the risk versus the reward when it comes to reviewing social media profiles, especially the personal ones like Facebook and Instagram. 

Social media screenings could leave you open to allegations of discrimination. If you plan to use social media screenings as part of your process, you may find a candidate accusing you of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A person could claim you saw his or her ethnicity, religious affiliation, or other protected information and used that information in your decision making.

Even if you don’t use social media screenings, it’s not inconceivable to think people could make these same accusations just based on the assumption that you might have viewed their public profiles.

A thorough screening policy coupled with documentation about each candidate’s qualifications and your decision-making process could be useful if you ever face a lawsuit.

How Should You Proceed?

If you plan on using social media to help you vet candidates for open positions, you should keep these tips from Les Rosen of Employment Screening Resources in mind.

  • Perform a social media check with the applicant’s consent only after you’ve made a job offer. The offer is contingent upon the completion of the check.
  • Develop a standard screen process that demonstrates how hiring decisions are based objectively on job description criteria.
  • Consider using a third party to perform the social media check with the third party providing only job-related information to help you make a hiring decision.

However, a better alternative to social media screening is to use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that keeps you focused on the objective, job-related data when screening applicants. An ATS gives you the tools to look beyond simple resumes, applications and pre-screening questions in evaluating job candidates, with options like custom-prescreening and pass-fail questions to screen out under-qualified candidates. 

Click below to read our guide to selecting the best ATS for your business.