Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Should You Conduct a Social Media Background Check on Potential Applicants?

You found the right candidate for your role; they’re charismatic, intelligent, and a go-getter. Just to make sure you hire an outside vendor to run a background check for any prior arrests, motor vehicle accidents or low credit scores. Now what? Once the background check comes back clean do you extend an offer letter or do you go a step further and check their social media accounts? Answer: extend the offer letter and save yourself some time and money.

Checking social media accounts is relatively new because well… social media is relatively new. While social media has arguably been around since AIM (that’s AOL Instant Messenger to the Generation Zs reading this); social media wasn’t all consuming until pretty recently. Social media transcends through all demographics, races, and ages. It’s the place where we share stories and connect to our hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of followers. Unless you’re an influencer who gets paid to promote products on your social media accounts; it has nothing to do with your professional career.

So why is HR so interested in what you ordered for brunch on Sunday morning? “Screening social media allows employers to look inside a person's head to see who a candidate really is," said Les Rosen who is the founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources. Rosen recently spoke about the dangers of conducting a social media background check at the Society for Human Resource Management 2018 Talent Conference & Exposition. He goes on to say, “if you use it incorrectly, there's a world of privacy and discrimination problems that could arise.” While I’m not a lawyer, take my legal advice: you do not want to be running a business while fighting a discrimination lawsuit.

It’s understandable that you don’t want to hire a candidate who could potentially be racist or be involved in criminal activity, but can you believe everything you read on social media? And can you be certain that the social media account is actually the candidate’s? And since when does going out to a night club or taking selfies mean that a candidate is any less qualified for the job?

Social media background checks are a waste of time and budget if you are only going to do it once. A candidate looking for a job knows to be careful as to what they post because according to Cison PR Newsire; 70% of employers are conducting social media background checks. If you’re not going to consistently check up on what your employees are posting- why would you waste the effort hiring an outside vendor to do it one time?

If you are going to check a potential applicants social media profile make sure that you do the following:

  • Make sure that what you’re doing is legal and cannot be construed as discrimination. Examples include not hiring someone solely based on their gender, age, sexual orientation, or race.
  • Consult with HR and your legal team to see if a social media background check follows your employee laws. You don’t want to unknowingly break company procedure and risk getting fired or sued.
  • Confirm that the social media accounts you are checking are actually the candidate
  • Make sure that the standards you set aren’t too high- having an occasional drink in a social situation should not be grounds for rejecting a candidate
  • Don’t believe everything you read. If an Instagram caption states, “playing hookie from work, join me at the beach!”, the candidate could very much have taken a vacation day. “Asked my manager if I could take a vacation day to go to the beach” - just doesn’t flow as well.
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Danielle Loughnane

Danielle Loughnane earned her B.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College and has currently been working in the data science field since 2015. She is the author of a comic book entitled, “The Superhighs” and wrote a blog from 2011-2015 about working in the restaurant industry called, "Sir I Think You've Had Too Much.” In her spare time she likes reading graphic novels and snuggling with her dogs.

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