How Do You Conduct a Social Media Search Without Repelling Top Talent?

Social media and online screening have allowed companies to dive beneath the surface and set the groundwork for a great hire. Used in addition to more traditional background checks, such as criminal background checks and reference checks, social media background checks have grown tremendously in popularity in the 21st century to help employers better understand the people they hire and trust.

However, while they are tools that give more insights into a candidate’s character, their use raises a lot of debate. According to a widely cited study by CareerBuilder, more than 70 percent of employers use social media to research candidates, and 50 percent of those employers have found content that led them to not hire somebody. Figures like these can create doubts in the minds of candidates and HR professionals alike, especially when social media screening is seen as new or unfamiliar.

Typically, the first questions that arise have to do with the legality of online screening. But even when those questions are resolved, one of the most frequent dilemmas that arises with social media screening have to do with the value or premise of social media screening. Does screening social media invade the candidate’s privacy? Is it fair to judge a person by their social media behavior?

Let’s engage some of the key questions that get raised about social media background checks and explore why social media screening, through its impacts on the candidate experience, benefits both employers and employees in this new era of work.

How Social Screening Affects the Candidate Experience

Does social media screening invade the candidate’s privacy?

While many social media users are aware that their online content leaves a blueprint, not every candidate is aware that their content can be reviewed by employers. For candidates, it can be particularly unnerving to feel as though a platform for sharing and free expression could potentially cost them a career opportunity.

In these cases, it's important for employers and candidates to understand that employers are only allowed to screen public online information that is job-relevant and connected to the candidate, after the candidate gives their consent. That means it is the candidate’s prerogative to decide what is public and what is private. It also means that candidates should be free of unwanted friend requests from potential managers or colleagues.

Remember that the goal of online screening is not to ‘catch’ people. Rather, it’s to have more background information to better understand and engage your candidates in the hiring process. To keep the screening process within ethical boundaries, employers and candidates alike should be aware that only public online results are included.

Is it fair to judge a person according to their social media behavior?

Online screening should not be the deciding factor or final judgment of someone’s character. Its purpose is not to rate or score the candidate, either. Rather, the purpose is to identify certain online content which the employer has defined as important. The acquired results can add to the conversation, in which questions or doubts can be discussed with the candidate.

That’s why social media screening reports focus only on surfacing job-relevant information. The process is intentionally designed to exclude protected information such as race, religion, or sexual orientation and information that isn’t relevant to the workplace, such as where someone chose to go after work. Even when results are surfaced, the hiring manager should take care to understand the context of the content before making a final decision.

Moreover, social media screening aims to help hiring departments understand the candidate as a whole. As a result, any positive indicators that are surfaced can reinforce a candidate’s job qualifications and professionalism. For example, a prospective candidate who’s posting actively about community service or sharing industry best practices may draw positive attention and decrease the time to hire.

Isn’t this just another way to put employees under more scrutiny?

As workplace activism movements continue to grow in the 21st century, one major critique levied against the adoption of new technologies, such as social media screening tools, in HR is that they threaten to shift the balance of power away from employees and into the hands of employers. In reality, online screening benefits both parties and, when used correctly, can hold people at all levels of an organization accountable to the unifying mission and values.

For candidates and employees in particular, social media screening offers:

  1. A safeguard against discrimination and bias in the hiring process

    One of the rules of social media screening is that companies must separate protected classes of information from the hiring decision. Thus, if companies are introducing any form of potential discrimination or bias in the hiring process, they can incur losses on both legal and reputational grounds. Social media screening done properly offers candidates a fair shot at the opportunity and protects them from the bias that manual screening far too often can introduce into the process.
  1. An opportunity to better understand the company’s values

    The benefits of social media screening can flow in both directions. For employers, social media screening can help ensure that a candidate is a good match and ensure both parties can work in a compatible and like-minded environment. For candidates, it can speak volumes about whether the company is one where they can maximize their talents and skills.

    Typically, an employer chooses what to look for, and identifies it as essential for the company’s culture. Some companies care more about profanity while others care more about harassment or bigotry. This can help the candidate see what an employer’s expectations are and determine if there is a good fit. In the long run, this means more productivity, new ideas, and increased satisfaction on both sides.
  1. A safer and more welcoming work environment

    Finally, online screening is a helpful tool to eliminate candidates who might negatively impact not only the company culture but also community trust, particularly in industries such as healthcare or the public sector. A company that nurtures high standards for their workforce provides a safer environment for both employees and the communities they serve. Those standards create a better employee experience and, ultimately, a workplace free of discrimination and harassment.

Social media screening has gained tremendous popularity in the last decade, and its use continues to grow, making it a tool of both the present and the future. With the growing awareness of the changing recruitment process and the benefits that this new technology is providing to employees, the ethical quandaries of social media screening may soon become part of its history and pave the way for this new form of vetting to become an integral part of HR’s exciting future.

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Disclaimer: Please note that the materials in this article are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.