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Are social media “background checks” really a good idea?

Use of social media is beginning to spread into the hiring process, which can create a new set of risks for your organization. While viewing an applicant’s Facebook profile may supply some useful information to recruiters, in some cases this has opened the door to allegations of discrimination or illegal conduct.  


Mobile and social technologies are creating a whole host of emerging issues in HR.  There is a lot of grey area around what employers can and can't do -- and not a lot of legislation yet to fill in the blanks. 

What social media can tell you about your applicants 

Social media creates a window into the lives of applicants that may not come out in their resume and cover letter.  The pictures, posts, comments, articles, etc., that they share may say a lot about them.

An employer who is researching applicant can use this to get a broader picture of who they are as a person and as a future employee.  A lot of this information may not come out in the interview -- after all, the applicant has time to prepare and rehearse key talking points.  This can provide another look at how  this applicant would (or would not) fit your company’s culture and needs in the long run. 

The problem with checking social sites in the hiring process 

Understanding the “big picture” about an applicant is a great asset in the hiring search, but employers should be wary of the risk of stumbling across protected information (such as race, age, religion, etc.). Social media profiles can include this personal data on the individual, but it is still illegal to use it in making a hiring decision.  Even if you are not making your decision based on these factors, a rejected applicant may have a new opportunity to allege discrimination if this is part of your process.  

As employers start doing more and more social media "background checks," it's also applicants' radar. Many job-hunters are beginning to change their privacy settings so their posts and pictures are not visible to the public. Keep this in mind when setting standards for your recruiting process.   

Can you request someone’s passwords? 

To overcome the obstacle with privacy settings, some hiring managers have begun to request personal passwords to the applicant’s profiles so they can review the content before making a hiring decision.

Not only can this be a huge turn off for applicants who feel their privacy is not respected, but it is also being made illegal in many states (10 states have legislation pending on this topic. On the national level, Congress is beginning to address questions on the legality of this as well.  

The bottom line: Proceed with caution 

All considered, social media can certainly be a helpful tool when going through the hiring process. Profile pictures, tweets, and shared articles may create a more holistic image of the applicant.

LinkedIn or Google+ profiles may show additional related experiences with more details than a resume can provide. When used effectively, social media searching can help uncover the best matched applicants for your unique culture and organizational goals. 

Whichever way you decide to use social media in your workplace, make sure you stay consistent with written procedures and policies, keeping them up to date as legislation changes and pending cases develop. 


Related Posts:

Is Your Social Media Policy Illegal? What the NLRB Has to Say

Social Media's Not Just for the Young Folk

Is Social Media the New Frontier of Benefits Communication?

3 Ways to Prevent Your Benefits Communication From Being a Snorefest

Topics: Transportation Construction HR / Employee Benefits Manufacturing