Is a social media background check part of your verification process before hiring a new employee?

We seem to verify quite a bit in our everyday lives. We double-check that our alarms are set to wake us up at the appropriate time each morning. Airline flights, car rentals, and hotel reservations are confirmed, often repeatedly before we depart. Signatures are authenticated and shared information is validated. We do the same for job candidates where reference checks are routine as well.

Approximately ninety-eight percent of hiring companies conduct some type of background check already. However, ninety percent of these same surveyed organizations also include social media screening in their verification efforts. Even more noteworthy is that seventy-nine percent of these companies have rejected candidates based on their findings.

If you’re not including a social media background check as part of your hiring process, should you? What are the legal and ethical barriers to consider before looking at someone’s social pages? Keep reading as we outline some essential guidelines for conducting social media screenings.

Benefits of a Social Media Background Check

If the vast majority of organizations are including a social media background check in their candidate verification efforts, there must be pretty compelling benefits. There are actually several that fall into one of two categories: supporting what you have already learned about your candidate and uncovering characteristics that standard options may not reveal. In simplest terms, personal social media pages can fill in the gaps.

Provides added insight

Social media can enhance and support what you have learned about job candidates through their resumes and your interview process by providing a holistic view.

Resumes provide only a limited view of the candidate because they are often tailored to the specific role a candidate is applying for. While they are the best way to highlight a candidate’s skillset and competencies, they are not the ideal vehicle for conveying personality. Similarly, your interviews can provide insight into a candidate’s capabilities and potential cultural fit, the conversation is typically narrow in scope and focused only on the role you are hiring for.

Social platforms can provide an expanded perspective of what the candidate is capable of because they allow candidates to build a repertoire of successes and accomplishments, along with passions and causes outside of their professional lives. Further, a social media background check can help you validate what you have already learned about your candidate through traditional avenues.

With more of the hiring process conducted virtually now, including more digital elements into your evaluations is a natural fit.

Reveals missing details

Two of the biggest causes of bad hiring decisions are undefined hiring processes and poor qualification standards. Yet, even with detailed and standardized processes in place, there may be aspects and character flaws of candidates that remain hidden.

Social content to watch for may include:

  • Instances of racism, sexism, or hate speech

  • Excessive behavior that could put themselves, other employees, or your business at risk

  • Sharing elicit or illegal content

  • Breaching the confidentiality of a prior employer

  • Information that directly contradicts what was already shared in a resume or interview

It is sometimes shocking what is shared on social media. Instances of inappropriate content appear far too often. This is not only a matter of professionalism but of human decency.

Your primary aim is to avoid hiring a candidate who regularly engages in potentially dangerous actions or defaming conversations. However, your social media screening process could also reveal characteristics inconsistent with the role or your company brand. For example, seek clarification for a medical professional who seems to lack compassion, an account executive who includes profanity in nearly every post, or a marketing professional with poor communication and writing skills.

Where to Approach With Caution

With any tool or process you use to evaluate job candidates, it is wise to approach any social media background check with a dose of caution and care. There is a fine line between exercising due diligence to adequately vet prospective employees and invading an individual’s privacy and personal life. Even though more candidates are freely sharing links to their social media profiles in resumes and other online profiles does not mean they shouldn’t be reviewed without respect or responsibility on your part.

Adverse impact

Outside of the legal implications, (which we will get to in a moment) the next biggest challenge facing employers who implement social media screening for candidates is letting personal and unconscious biases interfere with objective evaluations.

Political opinions have become much stronger in recent years. Can you keep an objective mindset if a candidate’s political views are vastly different from your own?

What if an applicant doesn’t have a social platform that you typically review or rarely visits their page? Will inactivity or lack of presence negatively affect your perception of them?

Just as you would with any other method of background checks, have a detailed process in place for how and when information is reviewed and evaluated.

Hiring practices have seen drastic changes and improvements over the decades to promote equitable hiring opportunities. This means that there are a few government entities that have implemented legal requirements and standards for how organizations solicit, filter, and evaluate candidates. Guidelines for conducting background checks, whether through provided references or via social media screening, must be followed to protect job applicants and keep hiring companies out of legal challenges.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.

Whenever you conduct a social media or another background check to evaluate candidates for an employment decision, hiring companies must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which is enforced by The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

There are specific guidelines to follow based on how background information is collected, but the primary requirements that apply in situations include:

  • Apply the same standards to everyone.

  • Take special care when basing employment decisions on background problems that may be more common among certain groups of people.

  • Be prepared to make exceptions when negative background information is caused by a disability.

Guidelines for Conducting a Social Media Background Check

Don’t let the above warnings push you away from using social media background checks. Like any process your organization implements, it just requires a little preparation and clear intent. Keep these guidelines in mind.

  • Clearly define what roles and/or departments you will use social media screening for. This may include management levels and above or those with direct outward communication on behalf of your organization.

  • Outline the scope of your social media screening. Specify what platforms you plan to review and the time frame to be included.

  • Define who will conduct a social media background check on your behalf. It is highly recommended that if you are conducting these yourself and not using a third-party service, that direct managers of your potential hires exclude themselves. Rely on your Human Resource department for this as they will be the most familiar with the legal regulations.

  • Document your findings. Print the pages that are used in your decision and record the reason for rejection. Focus only on facts and firsthand information. Do not include assumptions, feelings, or hearsay.

  • Be consistent. Social media background check practices should be the same for every application at your organization. For example, conduct this screening after all your interviews have been completed as you would with standard reference checks before sending an offer letter to your selected candidates.

  • Develop and document your process for conducting social media background checks.

  • Train anyone involved in the hiring process when and how to use this tool as a normal part of onboarding and employee development processes.

  • Research, understand, and comply with the laws in your state regarding social media background checks in your hiring process. Ensure FCRA, EEOC, FTC, and NLRB laws are followed. This may include consulting with an outside attorney or other HR professionals if you have any questions or uncertainties.

  • Visit and view candidate social media pages respectfully. Many social media platforms are increasing their privacy capabilities with more information available to users about engagement with their content and profiles. LinkedIn in particular provides detailed alerts when a user’s page has been viewed.

Conducting a social media background check as part of your candidate evaluation process can be incredibly helpful for supplementing and supporting details used in your final decisions. And, by knowing and adhering to the regulation guidelines, you can avoid any adverse impacts.

Access our Guide to the Recruitment Process below for more ways to enhance and improve your hiring process.

a guide to the recruitment process