Friday, August 18, 2017

Social Media Screening for Potential Employees

social media screeningEight out of every ten Americans have a social media presence. Facebook is the most common, but the percentage of adults using Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter is gradually rising. For employers this means the ability to vet potential employees recent activities online, in addition to a standard criminal background check. This practice is called social media screening.

Looking into potential employees using social networks is beneficial during the hiring process, although there is a fine line of legality in doing so. You must know how to approach investigating a potential employee’s social networks without violating their rights and privacy.

Firstly, you should only examine publicly shared content. Never friend or request to follow a candidate. Look at the information they have shared publicly to avoid violating their privacy. 


Each state has different laws when it comes to what you can and can’t do online. Identify your state’s laws in order to understand your limitations when it comes to vetting job applicants over the Internet. Federally, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is a law you should be aware of. The CFAA regulates what information you can legally access on the net. For example, you cannot gain access to private information like passwords without proper authorization.

social media screeningEqual employment opportunity issues can arise when viewing a potential candidate’s online profile. Viewing a public picture can give insight to things like race or political views. These are things candidates may not want to disclose, and legally can’t be taken into consideration during the hiring process. In 2010 the University of Kentucky learned this the hard way. The university found a candidate’s religious views online and took them into account when turning him down for a job. Kentucky argued that his “religious views on evolution would compromise his role as a scientist.” Ultimately, the victim of this unlawful social media screening received a six-figure settlement from the university

Here are some lawful reasons to reject an employee based on their social media:

  • Inappropriate pictures/information (including underage drinking/drug use)
  • Discriminatory remarks
  • Unprofessional or poor communication skills
  • Falsified qualifications


According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 43% of organizations surveyed said they use the Internet to screen potential employees. This practice is here to stay as the social media landscape is dominated by millennials, a major up and coming workplace demographic.

social media screeningAnother important thing to consider when social media screening is which networks you’re looking at. You should avoid screening Facebook for one candidate, and Twitter for another. It is best practice to search the same social media sites for each potential employee. Note, before using social media to screen a candidate you should have a social media screening policy in place. This policy should include information about when the applicant screening should take place in the hiring process, who’s doing the screening, and how to handle your findings.

Here’s some basic info on how to utilize social media screening for applicants:



Usually Facebook profiles are fairly private. For the most part you can view a profile picture and some public comments, so don’t go further than that. Keep your search to what you can publicly see, and definitely avoid friend requesting the applicant in an effort to dig deeper.



Twitter is a toss up. Profiles can be either public or private. If a candidate’s Twitter is private you are able to view their profile picture and possibly some descriptive information. If their profile is public you are able to see every tweet they’ve ever made, including retweets, and all the tweets they’ve liked. A public Twitter profile can be very revealing, and should be a focal point of your social media screening practice.



Like Twitter, Instagram accounts can either be public or private. Private accounts offer a small view of the profile picture and a possible short description. Public accounts allow you to see all the pictures a person has posted and the pictures they’ve been tagged in. Instagram is another valuable social media screening tool, but remember not to take into account things like gender, race, religion, political views, disability etc.



If you’re unaware, LikedIn is essentially Facebook for professionals. It is very uncommon to find inappropriate material on a candidate’s LinkedIn, but the site is great to screen for professionalism. Grammatical mistakes, for example, are a fair reason to disqualify a candidate.

In the event that you find something questionable during a candidate’s social media screening, it is often in your company’s best interest to allow a candidate to explain him or herself. You don’t want to lose a good candidate because of a potential fake profile or unsolicited comment their friend made. Give them a chance to illuminate on your findings. If you do decide to turn down a candidate for something you’ve found on social media, make a record of it. That way you’ll have evidence in the unfortunate event that the rejected candidate takes you to court. They can delete what you may have found, so play it safe and take a screenshot for your personal records.



social media screening
Taking the aforementioned precautions and information into account should allow you to successfully screen potential employees on social media; however, outsourcing your screen to an organization that specializes in employment screening is the smartest option if you can afford it. Companies like HireRight or ESS will look into a candidate’s background, including their social media history. 

Companies like these are equipped to obtain all relevant and lawfully available information on your candidate. Utilizing an employment-screening firm removes bias from the equation, and is probably the best option if it is within your means. 

In today’s world social media screening is an imperative part of the hiring process. Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, you don’t want to find out that someone makes inappropriate posts online after you hire them. Don’t hire an unprofessional “professional”.

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