Should social media be used for new employee background checks

July 16, 2019 | Aoife Flynn 5 mins read

It’s the 21st Century. Before a customer decides where they want to eat, they search the Internet for customer reviews and social media profiles on the restaurant. But it’s not just consumers using social media to “run background checks” on the businesses they wish to patronize. Now employers are using social media profiles as background checks as part of their hiring decision in order to find the best employees.

The public has mixed feelings about this (as they should). Human resource managers and experts in organizational behavior have hardly had time to address these concerns and come to a consensus. As such, employers and job seekers alike struggle to find the right balance.

Pros for using social media profiles as background checks

Incorporating background checks is already the standard for most company hiring processes. Believe it or not, social media profiles/ social media background checks are increasingly a part of those background checks, and it’s not all bad. Many employers are better able to find their ideal candidate, empowering the company culture that they’ve spent so much time and money developing.

Employers can get a bigger picture of who the applicant really is

It makes a lot of sense that hiring managers would feel frustrated with the tendency of applicants to put up a front, both on their resume and in person. Candidates can do a great deal to mislead employers without actually lying.

As such, employers want to know the real person behind the cleaned-up version they are looking at on paper and in an interview. Is this candidate a nice person in general or not?

While a social media profile can offer more information about the applicant’s likes/dislikes, social behavior, etc., it is still doesn’t give every detail of that person’s personal life. Social media users are left to their own discretion about how private or public they wish to be. The candidates choose what to publicize; therefore, employers want to know how their potential employees choose to conduct themselves in public.

Employers can deduce great work potential from how the applicant uses social media

Depending on the type of job, how an applicant brands themselves on social media says a lot about their desire to develop professionally. Here are a few things that a lot of serious-minded job candidates do with their social media profiles:

  • They regularly read and share content that furthers their education.
  • They seek to help others develop professionally.
  • They thrive on thoughtful discussions related to their area of expertise.
  • They show off their professional portfolio and accomplishments.

Job candidates that use social media in this way hope to get noticed by potential employers. Additionally, this kind of public display demonstrates the applicant’s commitment to be good at what they do, as well as showing employers that their passion for their work extends beyond the resume and interview.

Employers can better gauge the personality of the candidate

In an age where personality tests can help human resources departments build a thriving work culture, employers may wish to see how the candidate is unique in their personality. Do they exhibit leadership skills? Or, do they care more about relationships and peacemaking? Do they prefer to initiate or support?

There are a number of things that employers can perceive about a candidate’s personality that helps them know how they might fit into the current work culture.

Cons for using social media profiles as background checks

While social media has helped some employers hire the best candidates, many employers are falling under legal scrutiny. That’s because there are some major risks when it comes to using social media profiles to “spy on” employees and job applicants.

Employers too often discriminate without realizing it

When employers develop a hiring process, they must be fully aware of discrimination laws. Because of how state laws vary on how employers may use social media profile screenings as part of their hiring process, it is always best to consult with an attorney or hire a third party to run comprehensive background screening.

Discrimination nearly always occurs unintentionally by employers that assume that they know when they are or are not discriminating. However, anything that a job candidate or employee can cling to as discrimination renders an employer’s good intentions irrelevant. Here are some of the top reasons why employers end up losing in a discrimination lawsuit:

  • Religious Preferences
  • Political Preferences
  • Gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Legal Off-duty Conduct

That being said, employers that use social media screenings without guidance from legal experts are ten times more likely to unintentionally discriminate against employees and applicants than those employers that stick to a standard background check procedure.

Employers confuse personal life with work performance

While it is true that job candidates usually put up a professional front for the interview, it is also true that that “front” is simply how they conduct themselves at work at all times. When they leave work, they may flip a switch and act differently. While not everyone understands this kind of compartmentalization, it is legitimate.

Therefore, it is unfair for employers to assume that the “front” is anything less than sheer professionalism. It is a huge mistake for employers to assume that a social media profile showing a candidate partying “all the time” demonstrates the candidate’s inability to work hard. Additionally, as long as the applicant or employee’s personal life is legal, some states would consider such assumptions as illegal if they impact an employer’s decision to not hire, opening the door for a discrimination lawsuit.

Employers lean on fake social media profiles to form an opinion

Probably the most common error that occurs when employers screen social media profiles as part of their background checks is finding fake profiles. Unfortunately, social media is fraught with people that mimic real profiles in an attempt to hack other accounts or harass that person’s friends.

To address this, many employers have begun requiring their employees to provide login credentials in order to check up on their employees without falling prey to fake profiles. However, this is illegal in most states.

In conclusion

As the world of social media accounts and information grows, so grows the host of ways that job candidates and employers abuse the system. That’s why it is always best for employers to consult third-party background check companies. They will be able to properly screen candidates exhaustively (including how they use their social media) while protecting employers from violating discrimination laws.

On the flip side, job seekers might put careful effort into personal branding. Using social media intentionally can make them stand out with employers, particularly on professional social media sites like LinkedIn. Those looking for their ideal job are more likely to get it when they demonstrate a growth mindset and publicize their portfolio. Some job seekers have actually begun building their own resume websites in order to help potential employers more easily find them online.

As the hiring process continues to develop into the 21st Century, there will be more and more opportunity for collaboration between employers and job candidates. One such arena where this kind of collaboration already exists in its infancy is social media. It’s not just an opportunity for employers to see the bigger picture of a job candidate, but it’s turning into a place where job seekers and employers actually find each other.

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