Social Media Screening

Do’s and don’ts of social media screening for new hires and existing employees

A social media presence is the norm in today’s connected-to-everyone/everywhere world. Businesses, employees, job seekers and even pets have an online persona that represents them. For employers, social media provides a backstage look at employees and potential new hires. The temptation to look is impossible to resist: and it’s likely in every organization’s best interest to do so.

From the highest levels of government to the smallest business, an employee’s negative online presence can affect an organization. The recent Biden Administration nominee for its pending Disinformation Governance Board’s online presence not only resulted in her not getting the job, the entire Board was scrapped by the Department of Homeland Security.  A pre-screen of Nina Jankowicz’s online presence may have avoided embarrassment for her personally as well as DHS.

Your organization may not be as publicly embarrassed by an employee’s negative online presence, but there are many ways a review of social media can prevent problems and help make better hiring decisions.

Who’s PREscreening? Everyone!

A survey from the Manifest Company found employers are onboard with social media pre-screening of candidates. Ninety percent admit they check the accounts of potential hires: 79% say they eliminated a job seeker based on what they found. Some applicants believe scrubbing their accounts is the answer: but CareerBuilder found 57% of employers are less likely to interview someone they can’t find online.

Research supports that investigating a person’s online persona helps business affect better hires. A look into a candidates likes, interests and values can help better align with a company’s culture and vision. LinkedIn reports hiring managers are screening at every step of the process, from applications through offers.

The good news is social media can help you hire better: the bad news is it may open your organization to risk you hadn’t considered. There are some specific do’s and don’ts you want to factor into the pre-screening process to make sure you’re looking for things that are significant, while filtering out anything that isn’t.

Do look for work-related characteristics

An applicant who regularly posts their Monday morning ‘call in sick cause I partied too much over the weekend’ status is a definite pass. Look for indicators the candidate takes pride in their work, their career and their relationships. These suggest a person who has a strong work ethic and is able to get along well with others. All top soft skills businesses hope to find in applicants.

Don’t look for non-work related information

The challenging aspect of social media screening is the wealth of information available. In addition to aspects of their work-life, you may be privy to their private life as well. Information about illnesses, for themselves or a family member; activities that are legal but may suggest high risk (like skydiving); and other personal data should be excluded from your consideration of the candidate.

The problem may be it’s difficult to un-see these things: once you know the applicant routinely uses legal, recreational cannabis off-duty, it may cloud your judgment. In many states excluding someone on this basis is illegal.

Knowing they have a family member that may need caregiving currently or in the future can be problematic. Their potential time off may not be the reason you exclude them, but they may argue that’s why they didn’t get hired. That may be considered discrimination that’s actionable. The problem is, a full search of social media gives you a full look into a candidate’s life.

Do look at publicly available spaces

Whatever a job seeker posts publicly with their personally identifiable information is considered fair game for employers. If it’s out there for the world to see, then it’s equally available for businesses. Check all professional and social media sites equally: don’t skip out on TikTok (or OnlyFans) just because they’re less commonly used. You’ll want to make a thorough search, if you’re searching at all.

Don’t ask for access to private spaces

In almost half the states (and expanding) there are laws restricting employers from requesting access to private social media spaces. Do not request applicants sign into their accounts in your presence or provide user names or login information. Never ask they ‘friend’ you for access to their account. These requests cross the privacy line and should be avoided at all costs.

Do look for red flags

Look for aspects of the candidate’s profile that cause concern. Complaining about customers online — or worse, laughing about how they overcharge or abuse difficult clients is a definite red flag. Your staff members, and their online presence, are your brand ambassadors. You’ll want to protect your reputation at all costs.

Look for areas where they may be disrespecting others, particularly in a discriminatory or harassing manner. You’ll want to consider what you’re seeing in context of the work. If posts suggest the applicant has difficulty getting along with others, it’s unlikely they’ll become a valued member of the team.

Don’t assume all red flags are legitimate

Employees often complain within their work-friend groups online. You may think badmouthing an employer is a red flag, but the National Labor Relations Board disagrees. The NLRB has found that when employees complain about working conditions, even with only one other colleague, the behavior is protected — even online. This concerted activity is within a worker’s rights under the law, no matter how unappealing it may be to employers.

Do keep monitoring

Most companies feel that even after a person is hired, social media monitoring should continue. While it’s not common, CareerBuilder found 18% of employers fired an existing staff member because of a social media post. New hires may put their best foot forward to find a job; but their true colors can soon appear. Even long-term employees can reveal problematic traits when they think no one is looking.

Don’t risk monitoring in-house

Protecting your business, customers and employees is challenging.  Pre- or ongoing-screening of applicant and employee social media pages may be an excellent way to prevent problems. Navigating what posts should legitimately be considered a reason to exclude, versus posts that should be ignored can be difficult. For most businesses, using a third-party screening service is the answer.

These organizations use algorithms and people to look for business-related issues while avoiding posts that you shouldn’t see. They let leaders know if there are issues of concern while ignoring protected speech, behaviors and actions. Knowing which posts are actionable, and which should be ignored, is critical to making a fair and legal assessment of the candidate (and employee). Not knowing what’s legitimate, or seeing something you wish you hadn’t, could put your business at risk.

Social media screening has become a powerful tool for recruiters. It helps business avoid questionable hires and look for candidates that will be a good fit for the organization. But it’s not without risk: a best practice is to outsource social media screening to the professionals. They know exactly what information should be passed on to business, and what should be left unreported.

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