From a well-conducted social media pre-employment background check, a potential employer can obtain a vast amount of information concerning a job applicant, including:
- Verification of identity and legal status
- Verification of previous employment, education, endorsement of professional skill and previous addresses
- Information concerning any criminal charges and/or substance abuse.
- A complete credit report history.
During a face-to-face interview, a potential employee will typically be on their best behavior. They will behave politely with the answers they believe the recruiter wants to hear. They will be friendly and agreeable, non-confrontational and non-threatening. But how can the interviewer be certain this is the interviewee’s true personality and not just a face they present in order to have a better chance at landing a job?
According to The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), in the US, 56% of recruiters say some of their best candidates are sourced via social media, while 60% of recruiters use social media to vet candidates, pre-interview. 49% of employers said they rejected a candidate based on content found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn profiles.
We live in a social media world and it has come to a point where the first thing that people do after they wake up is check their social media accounts, and they are then connected throughout the entire day. According to a publication “We Are Social”, the number of active internet users in the US is 286.9 million, while the number of active social media users is 214 million, and 190 million of these people engage with social media via mobile devices. The top four most popular social platforms in the US are Facebook and YouTube, tied at 72%, Twitter in third place with 39% and Instagram at 38%.
What is Social Media?
Social media includes, but is not limited to, personal websites, email, blogs, chat rooms and bulletin boards. It also includes social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Google Plus, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pinterest and Twitter as well as video sharing sites such as YouTube. Social media are often described as electronic communication that occurs in online communities where users share ideas, information, personal messages, pictures and videos. Widespread access to the Internet on computers and increasingly, mobile devices, has helped social media develop and grow. Although it was originally used as a form of personal connection and communication, its reach into the business world has expanded greatly. Now businesses of all types and sizes recognize the ability of social media not only to dispense information, but also to gather it.
Information about an individual that was previously kept private and difficult to discover can now be easily obtained from profiles on numerous social media platforms. Social media platforms can be distinguished by their predominant use. Facebook, Instagram and Google Plus are three sites that are considered personal sharing sites. These sites are most often used to share personal information with a closed network of “friends.” Sites such as Twitter, Blogger and WordPress are somewhat different as they coexist between personal and professional use as the user has more control over the amount of content disseminated.
Sites such as LinkedIn are predominantly used for professional purposes because all profiles are public and contain information regarding the user’s professional lives like their work experience, education, awards, and volunteer experiences. The difference between personal and professional sites is important as users base decisions on what information to post depending on the intended or perceived audience. There is also blogging, podcasting and video, which are ways to create distinctive and original content targeted to audiences with specific interests. And although these forms of social media represent the opportunity to develop proprietary and more extensive content, they are typically a more expensive medium to maintain. Regardless of the platform used, any organization can now take the vast amount of data generated from these social media sites and choose from a number of tools to aggregate it, sort it, integrate it and build relationships with it.
How good is the idea of Hiring through Social Media?
Today, social media is a significant part of the marketing plan for both large and small businesses. Organizations use social media for public outreach and customer relations, consumer education, branding and engagement with consumers, promotion of their platforms and recruitment of employees. Not only has social media transformed the way companies conduct their business, it has also transformed the way many of them conduct their hiring.
Unfortunately for a lot of people, the Internet and social media sites provides instantaneous transmission of events. Even worse is the fact that it may be impossible to permanently retract evidence of these indiscretions. As soon as an offensive remark or incriminating photograph or video has been tweeted or posted, it can be seen by thousands of people and cause significant damage. Sometimes, the subject of an unflattering post is not even aware of it. Furthermore, damaging and incriminatory posts often remain online in some form long after the subject believes it has been removed.
In particular, LinkedIn is often used by individuals and businesses as a way to discover good job prospects. LinkedIn users often include information in their profiles about themselves that potential employers may not legally consider when hiring. Many employers know this and intentionally use LinkedIn to discover this information about job applicants that is not contained in the documentation that their human resource department provides them. Not only is it extremely difficult for human resource departments to control or prevent access to such information, the more troublesome aspect is they cannot control who employees communicate the information to or how it is used. Most everyone will admit they have said something they regret or have engaged in foolish behavior at some point in their life.
There are situations, however, when researching a job candidate’s social media background might be beneficial.
- If the job applied for is a manager of public relations, or an in-office social media strategist, an evaluation of their on-line presence and knowledge might be invaluable.
- A candidate’s profile on LinkedIn provides professional recommendations and connections, as well as a verification of work experience.
Thorough pre-employment background checks are important parts of evaluating any potential employee; but research into their social media presence is probably not necessary. Social media provides a type of “stage” where people can play a part and become a character that may not reflect the employee’s work habits at all.
Once posted, a communication can be saved and reposted by someone else with the potential to resurface years later. Any resourceful prospective employer can uncover it and use the information as part of their hiring decision process. When this happens, serious and expensive consequences may result if the information used is determined to violate an individual’s legal rights.
Legal Downsides of Hiring Through Social Media
Social media sites, by their very nature, are designed to allow people to share private information and to draw as much participation and information from people as possible. As such, the data mining industry and those who study online behavior do not care who the information comes from or whether they want it kept private; their goal is to make money from aggregating the information and selling it to companies who exploit it.
The legal approach to regulating the use of private information is markedly different between the United States and Europe. Europe, Canada, and many other countries believe that each citizen’s private information is a human right and they protect this right by statute, which can be enforced by the government or by a private citizen.
Social media is a practical and cost-effective tool for HR and hiring managers to utilize. However, like every great practice, it comes with its own unique balance of risk and reward. Claiming ignorance to nondiscrimination laws will not protect a company from justified lawsuits. HR departments must establish clear procedures for the use of social media when evaluating job applicants. Effective social media policy will include methodically documenting social media searches, ensuring consistency for all candidates, and insulating decision makers from unnecessary information. While social media appears to be an increasingly common avenue for candidate evaluation, modern social media screening has yet to provide a proven track record for hiring the best candidates. Much of the current literature on this topic concedes that additional research is needed to verify social media use as an effective tool. Independent of research validation, each employer holds accountability for the responsible use of social media during hiring. At the end of the day, the simple cost for compliance for an effective and legal social media use is because of its convenience of hiring the best candidate.
cFIRST Think Tank is the team that researches and produces content for cFirst. This team comprises of seasoned content and digital design professionals and background screening industry veterans. Together we produce insightful blogs, infographics and reports meant for HR and background screening professionals.