The proliferation of social media sites these days may seem like an easy-to-access goldmine of information about potential job candidates. An applicant looks good on paper, but what might you learn by browsing their online activity? It’s easy enough to do and a quick search of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok could turn up a wide range of information from photos to messages and more.
But should you do it without the help of a consumer reporting agency (CRA)? Legal experts say, “NO.”
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), “Stop Screening Job Candidates’ Social Media,” raises a number of issues of which HR professionals, recruiters, hiring managers and other should be aware. The majority don’t seem to be aware; in fact, the HBR article indicates that: “According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers check out applicants’ profiles as part of their screening process, and 54% have rejected applicants because of what they found.”
The study was led by researcher Liwen Zhang and consisted of three separate research studies that were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2020. Based on their research they offer some cautions about using the insights you might gather online through social media sites to make decisions about interviewing or hiring candidates—for both legal and practical reasons.
Access to Information That is Legally Prohibited
One obvious legal risk related to the use of online social media profiles to evaluate job candidates is the likelihood that such activity could reveal characteristics that are legally protected from consideration when making job-related decisions—like hiring.
For instance, gender, say the researchers, is apparent in 100% of the profiles they reviewed. Those reviewing online profiles also have the potential to discern “disabilities (7%), pregnancy status (3%), sexual orientation (58%), political views (21%), and religious affiliation (41%).” Age and race are other characteristics that might be revealed in social media channels.
Access to Information You Just May Not Like
In addition to prohibited information, personal profiles also are likely to contain language and images that may show them in a negative light—even though they may be highly qualified for the position they’ve applied to. These researchers found that “51% of them contained profanity, 11% gave indications of gambling, 26% showed or referenced alcohol consumption, and 7% referenced drug use.”
Making Decisions Made Based on Flawed Perspectives
In addition to the legal risks that might emerge when hiring managers and others peruse social media sites to check candidates’ backgrounds, there are practical considerations as well. In many cases, the assumptions and judgments you may make simply aren’t correlated to the ability of the candidate to succeed in the role they’ve applied for.
In their second study, these researchers evaluated how various elements of applicants’ Facebook profiles impacted their how recruiters viewed their potential to do the job. While some criteria used were legitimate—e.g., education or writing ability, others were not—e.g., marital status or age.
Their third study looked at the extent to which recruiters made good choices based on social media inputs. The answer: no. Evaluating the assessments made by two groups of recruiters—one with and one without specific training on how to use social media inputs objectively—researchers found that neither group was able to make assessments that were validated by candidates’ actual performance on the job.
According to HBR: “the researchers recommend that hiring managers resist the temptation to pore over candidates’ social media pages.”
In a sidebar to the piece, HBR interviewed CEO of ECA Partners, a recruiting firm, Atta Tarki, who agrees with the researchers’ recommendation. He said: “It’s like going on a fad diet to achieve better health—it’s a shortcut that doesn’t work.” Tarki does, however, acknowledge that certain things that might be gleaned from social media searches—like discovering a candidate had attended a KKK rally—could be helpful to search for. But, he says, companies should have “someone other than the hiring manager do a social media screen and report back only on unequivocal red flags.” And that, he says, should occur only later in the hiring process at the point a candidate has been selected and it’s time for a formal background check.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Do It! Let Us Do It For You
There’s risk involved in using social media, especially when those evaluating what they find are not trained in how to use it appropriately. Instead of attempting to do it themselves, HR professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers should partner with a reputable background screening provider to ensure that the evaluation is done appropriately.
Choosing a trusted provider, like Accurate, can help you minimize risk while leveraging the value that social media insights can provide.
Click the link to learn more about social media screening.