4 Ways To Effectively Use Social Media To Screen Candidates

Let me guess. You already are using social media to screen candidates. And you are not alone. According to a recent survey by Reppler, 91 percent of people involved in hiring decisions at their company said they do too.

The problem is that recent studies have shown that this can be a highly ineffective and, in some cases, illegal way to screen candidates, if done incorrectly. People have sued and won settlements against organizations for not hiring them after the organization found information about them on social media sites and then used it to allegedly discriminate against them.

That’s not to say there is no use in it. There can be, if done legally and effectively. So what are the keys to screening candidates with social media?

Experts suggest:

1.       Have A Third Party Screen Candidates’ Social Media Pages:

As mentioned, there have been cases where people have sued and won settlements from organizations they applied to work at for allegedly discriminating against them with information found on social media. For example, if you discover on Facebook that a candidate is a homosexual and you don’t hire them for that reason, you could be held liable.

To avoid lawsuits, a better solution is to have a third party – perhaps another person at your company not involved in the hire – look at candidates’ social media pages for you. Then, they can provide you just the information that you can legally use in your hiring decision. After all, public Facebook posts are public, and they are fair game to use, so long as you are not using them to illegally discriminating against a candidate.

The third party can provide you with just the information you can legally use in your hiring decision: their public status updates, their tweets, their LinkedIn profile, etc. However, that person could filter out certain information that a candidate could argue you used to illegally discriminate against them, such as their sexual preference, age, any health or mental conditions, etc.

2.       Look For The Right Things

Okay, so what should you look for in social media profiles? Certainly, a candidate who is posting pictures of themselves using alcohol or drugs should be immediately eliminated, right? Well, not necessarily.

A 2013 study North Carolina State University study showed that people who post pictures of themselves using alcohol or drugs on Facebook were more likely to be extroverted than people who didn’t and there was no correlation between people who posted pictures of themselves using alcohol on Facebook and conscientiousness. The lesson was if you were looking for a salesperson, a job that requires someone to be extroverted, and if you eliminated candidates who posted pictures of themselves drinking alcohol on social media, you would actually decrease the chances of hiring the right person.

The study did conclude though that there was a negative correlation between conscientious people and people who badmouthed others or organizations on Facebook, i.e. people who are negative on Facebook are hard to get along with. So perhaps it is better to look at the personality of the person’s social media pages than the content itself.

3.       Don’t “Friend” Candidates

Public posts are public and fair game. Private posts, on the other hand, are private. If a candidate has a private Facebook or Twitter account, as an example, it is not recommended to try to “friend” those candidates or to set up a fake account to “friend” those candidates.

If the candidate has a private account, perhaps the takeaway is that they are smart enough to keep them out of public view.

4.       Create A Social Media Policy

The last and most important tip. Create a social media screening policy that describes exactly how you will view candidate social media pages during the hiring process and make all of the employees at your organization follow it. If necessary, have an attorney look it over to ensure everything is legal. Otherwise, you could be eliminating the wrong people or, worse off, setting yourself up for a lawsuit.


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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 18, 2014 at 10:37am

Thanks, Paul. This is very thoughtful and pragmatic.

You've shown us that the goal is not to avoid discrimination, but to discriminate in a way in which our masters cannot be sued...You have learned much of the value of the Dark Side, young Jedi.


Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on April 18, 2014 at 9:41pm

Flipping through photo albums sounds legit. I agree that anything publicly posted online is public information.

But seriously what does that have to do with anyone's qualifications to do any particular job? 

It amazes me that people actually believe they can determine someone's personality and/or anything else that could be remotely relevant to use as hiring criteria from viewing FB or any other social site. Who has that much time on their hands to go snooping around like that?  

Comment by Linda Ferrante on April 21, 2014 at 9:41am

I don't agree with having a third party review their social media presence.  That's just sneaky.  I agree with Kelly, also, the fb posts have very little to do with their qualifications, especially if recruiters are doing their job!

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 21, 2014 at 11:25am

@ Linda: " That's just sneaky." Yes indeed, and that's often why they hire us- to do the things that they shouldn't do in a way they can culpably deny doing it.


Comment by Paul Petrone on April 21, 2014 at 1:01pm

I don't mean someone from outside the company to look at the social media pages. Instead, someone inside, but someone not involved in the hiring decision, just to get a few basic facts. Again, though, I'm not advocating for hiring decisions to be based on a candidate's social media pages. I'm just saying if you are going to look through them (and many people do), here's a good way to do it. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on April 21, 2014 at 1:33pm

Thanks, Paul.

IMHO, the resume and pre-screen questions are the best places to get "basic facts" as relates to theri work skills. It comes down to this: the more places and the longer someone spends looking into someone's background, the greater the likelihood thattsomewhere, sometime they did something less than positive in their lives. So, if you're looking to weed people out for whatever reason, then dig as deep as you have time and money for. (That's what high-level background checks are for.) If you're NOT trying to dig up dirt (and/or spend a lot of time, resources doing so), stick to the resume and pre-screen questions up front.



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