A Conversation About Social Media and Background Checks

Searching social media to enhance a company’s  pre-screening procedures is no longer considered a gimmick. Social media appears to be a place where people let their true selves become visible. So why not take advantage of what is discoverable in this public venue?

Today, it’s fairly common to hear the question; Can an employer check social media prior to hiring an applicant?

Well, employers can use social media in two ways within the hiring process; to post job openings, and to confirm an applicant’s qualifications for a particular position. However, be forewarned: several of the things discoverable on social media may not be worth the risk, and quickly make your organization subject to a lawsuit. These checks can easily turn into a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” legal situation.

From a negative perspective, when conducting a social media search it’s almost impossible to avoid viewing  discriminatory Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and E.E.O.C.’s information related to sex, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, family status, and political activities, as well as numerous state laws.

Keep in mind that a recent CareerBuilder Study reported that while 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring, it also noted of those same employers, 54 percent decided not to hire a candidate based on their social media profiles. Don’t lose sight of the possibility that if an applicant feels he/she was rejected because of an “off-limits” trait discovered on social media, that person may file a lawsuit for discrimination.

On the positive side, social media appears to be a place where people let their true selves become visible.

Therefore, it’s no wonder sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and a handful of others offer an excellent opportunity for those charged with the hiring process to obtain verification of an applicant’s  qualifications for a position, as well as professional recommendations.

Connecting with candidates – many of whom would never be found through traditional sources – allows the prospective employer to learn if the individual will be a good fit in their corporate culture.

Another most important step is to see if the information on the application about the person’s education, prior jobs, and experiences confirms what is listed on the resume. Social media may also provide clues to the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, profanity, and poor behavior. Some employers will also scrutinize use of poor grammar and spelling.

The CareerBuilder study found that 29% of those surveyed hiring managers found something positive on a profile that drove them to offer the candidate a job.

No getting around it, social media is a good resource for learning about prospective candidates because much of what is there … is public. So it’s no surprise to find that many recruiters and hiring managers are using social networking sites as part of their pre-employment screening process.

Once you have made the decision to use social media as a resource in your pre-employment screening process, below are seven “tips” that any employer may wish to consider. But first, let me make it clear, I am not an attorney nor am I offering or attempting to offer legal advice. That is the job of your attorney.

  1. Assign this research to an H.R. person. HR should be well versed on what social media content can and cannot be considered.
  1. Never ask for passwords. Only look at content that is in the public domain. Otherwise, there is risk of violating the federal government’s Stored Communications Act.
  1. Check social media after the interview. At that point, his/her status in protected groups is likely already known.
  1. Be consistent. Check all of those applicants applying for particular positions.
  1. Keep a record of what you based any hire or not hire decision on social media, and record any reason for rejection. In event that damaging content is deleted prior to a challenge, you have a record.
  1. Focus on the applicant’s own posts. Recognize there are vindictive people and imposters posting information. Also, you may want to give the applicant a chance to respond.
  1. Know the laws. If a third party performs your social media screening, you are likely subject to the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Be advised that some state laws prohibit adverse action based on off-work conduct, except under limited conditions.

I once heard a quote, “There are only two times an individual is perfect: at the time of birth and at the job interview.”

Social media can be a good resource in your recruiting efforts. Just remember to use it wisely.  $


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