Should You Screen Job Candidates' Social Media?

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Posted by: David Garcia September 07, 2023

There are few topics in the hiring world quite as contentious right now as whether or not companies should be screening the social media of job candidates. Some see it as a vital way of ensuring that a potential hire aligns with the values of their company, while others see it as an ethical invasion of one’s privacy and a possible legal landmine. 

The Pros and Cons of Social Media Screening

Social Media Screening Pros

The pros around screening a new hire on social media will depend on your views around free speech and whether you are willing to make a hiring decision based upon information found on it. Let’s be clear: you cannot make a hiring decision based on race, ethnicity, or gender, but in many states, you can legally decide based on what you perceive as red flags (hate speech, violence, etc.), political or ideological views. If it’s important to you that your team shares the same view of the world, social media is a good way of doing this. 

A Harris Poll in 2020 revealed that 71% of decision-makers believe social media is an effective form of screening, with 67% saying they already use it to pick potential candidates. It’s also a quick way of varying certain pieces of information, such as education or work background (if included), and can also be a helpful way of screening candidates cheaply if your budget is tight.

Social Media Screening Cons

If you believe you can say what you wish online without fearing repercussions, you’ll probably be wary of social media screenings. The ethical argument against digging through somebody’s social media history is pretty straightforward, and many argue it has no bearing on job ability. Anti-discrimination law covers much of the information, which could easily lead to a lawsuit if things go wrong. 

There’s also the argument about whether social media gives an accurate impression of a person. What people post online and what they say in real life may be completely different. If you’ve got many candidates, it’s also incredibly time-consuming, especially as you might need to search several accounts to find the person. 

What Are Alternatives to Social Media Screening?

With social media screening becoming an increasingly debatable topic, many are seeking alternative ways of assessing potential hires. 

Talent Pools

talent pool is a database that companies keep containing the resumes of those who have applied for previous positions but, for whatever reason, did not get the job. They are a valuable way of finding potential candidates because you may have had ten outstanding applications for a single position, meaning nine of them you needed to pass up. Simply keeping their information (with their permission) in case something else comes up can dramatically save time and energy. 

Recruitment Agencies

One of the more traditional ways of finding candidates is to use a recruitment agency that does the bulk of the leg work for you and presents you with a set of options. In terms of ease, this is as simple as you’re going to get, but it does mean that you’re putting your faith in other companies to find the perfect candidates. If you have a particular kind of person in mind, you’ll need to outline this clearly with the recruitment agency.

Employee Referrals 

A commonly overlooked way of recruiting is through employee referrals. Simply posting a message on a company intranet or sending out emails about job possibilities can reach many people quickly, especially if you’re a large business. Networking has become a vital aspect of recruitment, and you’ll be surprised how often one of your employees has a friend or knows somebody who could be the perfect fit. 

So, Should You Screen Job Candidates’ Social Media?

While social media is undoubtedly one way of screening candidates, it often fails to get an accurate impression of a person. What’s more, much of the information you might find there you are ethically discouraged or legally prohibited from taking into account when making a hiring decision.

It all comes down to what information you take on board and how you use it. Anything covered under anti-discrimination laws (gender, sexual preference, disability, race, ethnicity) is immediately off the table unless you’re actively looking for a lawsuit.

Examples of hate speech, bullying, threats of violence, and violent imagery or language are certainly areas for concern. However, choosing candidates based on political or ideological beliefs, while not necessarily illegal, opens the door to ethical concerns and can easily lead to discrimination lawsuits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Ethical to Screen Candidates Using Social Media?

There’s nothing unethical about carefully screening potential candidates, but problems could arise from what you might reject a candidate for. It’s illegal to make a hiring decision based on gender, sexual preference, race, or ethnicity, but very little stops you from deciding based on perceived red flags, political or social views. 

Should Employers Use Social Media to Screen Job Candidates?

For a number of years, companies have used social media for job screenings, but with growing concern over the ethical and legal nature of doing so, it’s time to seek better alternatives or use an external source who knows how to do it properly.

What Are the Risks of Using Social Media to Screen Job Candidates?

Judging job candidates on what you find on social media comes with all manner of legal risks. While rejecting a candidate because of perceived character flaws might not be illegal, should it be linked to disability, race, or sexual preferences, you could be in a world of problems. 

Final Thoughts

One of the best ways of removing potential risks from the screening practice is to remove yourself from the process. By allowing professionals like ScoutLogic to conduct social media screening on your behalf, you can rest assured that we’ll comb carefully through candidate information but only make recommendations based on specific predefined and legal parameters. Social media screening is like walking into a minefield; let us take the risk to find the perfect candidate for you.

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