Social Media Background Checks: How to Make Sure You Do Them The Right Way?

By Ellie Martin

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If you’ve ever been tempted to look up your job applicants on social media before contacting them, you wouldn’t be the first. In fact, 70% of employers take a peek at participants’ profiles prior to considering them for a position.

Vetting participants on social media isn’t off-limits and has become a regular part of the background checks process when recruiting for new staff.

That said, social media screening isn’t simply a case of looking up an applicant’s LinkedIn or Facebook profile and checking through their Instagram posts. 

Here are a few dos and don’ts of social media screening and why it’s vital to carry out this particular background check.

Why is a Social Media Screening Check Important?

When an applicant sends over their job application, you’ll receive their cover letter, CV, portfolio, references, and anything else you see fit. 

That being said, social media screening is equally important when it comes to hiring for several reasons. It’s great for:

  • Seeing how applicants behave outside of the workplace, e.g. employers can view their thoughts on a platform they feel happy visiting, browsing and consuming content.
  • Reaching passive participants, as they’re not actively seeking a new job. Employers can view their online profile with no need to approach them to ask them if they’re seeking a new job opportunity. This applies particularly to web developers who are contacted by recruiters and head-hunters regularly.
  • Confirming the candidate’s data, whether it’s education, location, work experience or another piece of information via LinkedIn.
  • Checking a candidate’s social media skills if they’re applying for the role of a social media manager, for instance.

Dos of Social Media Checks

Social media screening is a priceless tool to help you vet and recruit better applicants. Here are a few tips for getting it right.

So, do:

Have a clear understanding of what you can search for. HR teams must make sure all recruiting managers have a thorough understanding of what data they’re allowed to search for, and what they ought to be watching out for in terms of certain positions, awareness of the dangers surrounding unconscious biases and personal data, and guidance on important laws like GDPR and the Equality Act.

So long as HR teams know exactly why they’re carrying out a screening, understand what they’re seeking, and are well-versed on their legal responsibilities – undesirable outcomes can be prevented.

Ensure your own company profile is updated regularly. Since candidates will be perusing your company’s social media platforms, too, it’s wise to work on your own profile and keep it updated consistently to represent your business’s brand and core values effectively.

Limit your search to a candidate’s professional life. While it may be tempting to poke around and check up on what a candidate gets up to outside of work, you’re only really interested in their professional actions, e.g. within professional communities together with the principles they represent outside of the job interview.  

Clue yourself up about the law. Screening candidates via social media may land you in a spot of legal trouble, although this largely depends on where you live. Ensure you’re aware of the laws governing recruitment in your country and adhere to them.

Err on the side of caution. Similarly to a CV, social media profiles can be forged, so take everything with a grain of salt. Try not to read too much into any information on the candidate’s profile, as without proper references, any statement about work experience is speculative.

Inform candidates. If you plan to conduct research on a candidate’s social media profile before an interview, be sure to let them know. HR leaders should get a candidate’s approval prior to an interview, as this enables them to choose what they want to have displayed privately or publicly on their profiles. The majority of candidates haven’t created social media profiles for recruitment managers to see, even if it’s visible publicly. Thus, if you wish to use social media screening as part of the hiring process, make sure you ask permission first.

Be consistent. Be sure to use the same process for every candidate on your list. For example, look at each candidate’s Twitter profile rather than looking at one applicant’s LinkedIn then one applicant’s Facebook profile. 

Take screenshots. If something doesn’t sit well with you about a candidate’s profile, save the evidence by taking screenshots. Save the screenshots safely, as social media content can be hidden or deleted entirely, just as quickly as it was posted.

Delegate work. If you believe there could be legal issues when it comes to screening or deem you may be biased, you’re within your rights to outsource work to a professional company that handles reference and background checks. They’ll vet a candidate for any disturbing information, like breaking the law, a history of violence, drug abuse, and so on, while leaving out particulars like a participant’s inebriated holiday get-togethers.

Don’ts of Social Media Checks

To effectively screen candidates on social media, there are also a few things you really should avoid doing, highlighted below.

So, don’t:

Let protected characteristics influence your decision. If a candidate claims that a company’s decision was made not to hire them based upon protected characteristics on their social media (sexual orientation, race or religion), companies could face significant fines as well as all-encompassing harm to their company brand. A business could, instead, utilise the help of a company that specialises in social media checks that purposefully deletes protected characteristics so as to totally remove the risk of unconscious prejudices influencing decisions.

Carry out a social media check as the first course of action. While scrutinising a candidate’s social media profile is a good way to assess a prospective employee, there’s lots of information you can use to compare participants. This includes a candidate’s work experience, test scores as well as portfolio samples. These checks are much more appropriate to the job post than evaluating their social media profile. So, it’s worth leaving social media checks until the very end of the recruitment process. For example, you could use it when you have candidates with similar test results to ascertain which of them is more suited to the job role in question, based on their social media profiles.

Centre your verdict exclusively around social media screening. Sure, checking a candidate’s social media profile will give you a glimpse into their life, but it’s not a trustworthy recruitment tool.

Make guesses. Avoid making assumptions, as you can only get a limited amount of information straight from the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and so on. However, it’s unlikely you’ll get the full picture each and every time.

Solely use LinkedIn. Granted, LinkedIn is the prime platform for professional use, but it’s not the only platform for background checks. For instance, you can search for writers on Medium, look up developers on StackOverflow and GitHub, and check out designers’ portfolios on Behance and Worksome. 

Social media can be an incredibly effective addition to the recruitment process, so long as you stay within the legal limitations highlighted above. A social media background check can help you make smarter decisions and enhance your recruitment process. By following these guidelines and ensuring everyone involved in the recruitment process is on the same page, businesses can really benefit from carrying out a social media screening – without fretting about any of the risks.

About the Author: George Griffiths is the Managing Director of uCheck. His focus for the future is to drive the development of the uCheck groundbreaking HR Platform and continue to align his way of working with their mission statement – to always care about getting it right.

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