The Dos and Don'ts of Social Media Screening in the Hiring Process

Have you ever looked up your job applicants on social media before calling them in for an interview or hiring them? Chances are, you have since 70% of employers glance at applicants’ profiles before considering them for a role. Social media screening is no longer a taboo and has long become a standard part of the screening process when hiring new employees.

However, there’s more to social media screening than simply looking up an applicant’s Facebook profile and going through their tweets. Here’s why social media screening is important, as well as the best practices on how you can (legally) do it to learn more about your candidates.

Why use social media screening?

In a standard job application, you’ll get a candidate’s resume, cover letter, portfolio, references, and whatever else you deem as a requirement. However, social media screening has a place in the hiring process for several reasons.

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First, it’s a great way to see applicants’ natural behavior, without the stress of the job interview. You can see their thoughts on a platform where they feel comfortable visiting, scrolling and consuming content.

Moreover, it’s an ideal place to reach passive candidates. Since they’re not (actively) looking for new job opportunities, you can take a glance at their online profile without approaching them and asking if they’d like a new opportunity for work. Especially with positions such as developers, passive candidates get contacted by recruiters and headhunters on a daily basis.

It saves money. Prices vary from country to country, but in the USA, a background check costs anywhere from $2 to hundreds of dollars for a single applicant. While $2 doesn’t sound too bad, if you’re hiring for lots of positions, it can grow to a nice lump of cash. On the other hand, social media screening will set you back just a few seconds to look up a candidate online.

This brings us to the next point, you can use social media screening just to confirm the candidate’s data. Whether it’s location, education, work experience or something else, you can look it up on LinkedIn to confirm the data without going for a background check.

Another great use for social media is to check the candidate’s social media skills, if they’re applying for the role of a social media manager, for example.

Finally, if you’re using a test such as Hundred5, you may struggle to choose between two candidates – so you can resort to social media profiles such as LinkedIn to help you make up your mind.

Why social media screening is not always so great

First, the elephant in the room – legality. Every country has different guidelines on what is legal when it comes to accessing applicant information during the hiring process. Depending on the country/state, it can be illegal to look up a candidate’s gender, age, race, religion, sexuality and plenty of other bits of information. Make sure you know what’s legal and what’s not before you start screening applicants.

The reason why legality is such an issue is that the information you find out could lead to discrimination. If the candidate suspects you looked up sensitive information during the application process, they could sue.

Second, there’s the inconsistency of information. Not everyone is crazy about social media and there are applicants who don’t use social media at all. There are those that have profiles but rarely update them, and finally, some candidates enter false information.

Add on top the issue of favoritism. How many times has it happened that you looked up a candidate and found out you went to the same high school/university, like the same football team or share the passion for Formula 1? As humans, we’re inevitably subjective creatures, and any information you get prior to meeting the candidate could sway you to favor one candidate over the rest.

What kind of information should you look for?

Depending on the position you’re hiring for and the industry you work in, you’ll be looking at different information on candidates’ social media profiles. However, you can take a cue from what everyone else is doing. According to research by CareerBuilder from August 2018, here is what employers primarily look for when screening candidates on social media:

-        58% - information that supports their job qualifications

-        50% - if the candidate has a professional online persona

-        34% - what others are saying about the candidate

-        22% - reasons not to hire the candidate.

So far so good. Perhaps more interesting than this data, the research revealed the type of content they found that made them eliminate the candidate from the selection process. Here’s what got applicants in trouble:

It’s up to your company’s HR department to determine what gets a candidate disqualified, but these are some good ideas (or not so good, depending on where you stand) on what kind of information to watch out for.

Dos of social media screening

Even though it has some cons, social media screening is an invaluable tool that can help you screen and hire better candidates. Here are a few tips to do it right.

Work on your own profiles. Social media screening works both ways, and candidates will be looking through your company’s social media presence as well, therefore, ensure that your profiles regularly updated and represent your company’s employer brand and key values.

Stick to candidates’ professional lives. Although it may be tempting to snoop into candidates’ behavior off the job, you’re primarily interested in how active they are in their professional communities, as well as the values they stand for outside of the job interview.

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Take everything with a grain of salt. Just like resumes, social media profiles can be faked, so don’t take any information you find for granted. Without proper references, any claim about work experience is unfounded.

Get to know the law. Depending on where you are located, screening candidates through social media can get you in legal trouble. Make sure you know the laws governing hiring in your country and abide by them.

Stay consistent. If you have a list of candidates you’re screening, make sure you use the same processes for each of them. I.e. don’t look at one candidate’s LinkedIn profile and another candidate’s Twitter profile.

Save evidence. If there’s anything that would make you question if the candidate is not fit for the role, take screenshots and save them. Social media content can be deleted just as easily as it’s created.

Outsource the work. If you feel like you could have legal issues with screening or think that you may be biased, you can simply delegate the work to a company that deals with reference checks. They’ll screen for any alarming information, such as a history of violence, breaking the law, substance abuse etc. while leaving out details such as candidate’s drunken spring break parties.

Don’ts of social media screening

To screen candidates on social media properly, there’s also a couple of things you really should not do, such as these.

Don’t do it as the first step of the screening process. There’s lots of data that you can use to compare candidates, such as test results, work experience, education or portfolio examples. All of these are more relevant to the position than assessing the candidate’s social media profile. For this reason, leave social media screening for the very end of the hiring process. When hiring at Hundred5, we use it when we have candidates with similar test results so we can determine which of the two would be a better fit based on social media.

Don’t base your decision solely on social media screening. While it’s a great solution to help you get the bigger picture, it’s not a reliable hiring tool.

Don’t make assumptions. You can only get a certain amount of information directly from social media channels, but you won’t be able to get the full picture every time.

Don’t use LinkedIn only. While it’s the best for professional use, LinkedIn is far from the only platform for screening. For example, you can look up developers on GitHub and StackOverflow, learn more about writers on Medium, glance at designer portfolios on Dribbble and Behance etc.

Conclusion

Social media screening can be an extremely powerful addition to a hiring process. As long as you stay within legal boundaries and follow the guidelines listed above, it will help you make better decisions and improve your hiring processes.

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