9 Steps if Considering Social Media in Background Checks

Face it, more and more hiring managers are admitting that they will look at a candidate’s social media profile at some point during the hiring process. And why shouldn’t they. There is a lot of valuable information to be gleamed from a candidate’s electronic footprint. A lot has been written about some of the pitfalls and problems with using this data, so I won’t hash over it here. My focus is on 9 things you should consider if you are going to adopt a strategy of using social media (social intelligence) in the screening process.

  1.  Screen in a consistent and uniform manor – make sure you follow the same process for everyone you are screening. Don’t follow a random process of only checking up on people you think may be hiding something or may have some secret life you think you should know about.
  2. Screen the same sites for everyone and maintain the list of sites you screen – determine which sites you think are the most relevant to look at (Linked In, Quora, Spoke, Twitter, etc) and don’t alter the list just because of the candidate. In other words – if you feel like Facebook is really a social environment without much relevant job information – don’t suddenly search it for the candidate that has a funny tattoo. 
  3. Pre define the types of information you are screening for and the criteria used for screening – This is a KEY point: You are looking for relevant, work related information only. You probably don’t need to know about someone’s partying habits, but you probably do need to know about threats of violence, hate messages against minorities or ethnic groups, a pattern of disparaging comments about previous employers, or misleading information about their college degree.
  4. If you don’t plan to screen everyone, be clear and consistent about what groups you are not screening – like all background checking, social media is not that different in a case like this. You don’t have to screen all job categories, but be clear (and document) why you screen some and not others.
  5. Have a neutral party do the screening to avoid hiring manager seeing protected data (age, race, religion, health conditions, etc.) – The fundamental point here is – if you are going to look at data on a social media site – you will see more than you need to. To avoid that risk – use a third party that will filter out that data.
  6. DO NOT friend an applicant – this is fraught with all kinds of problems. Not only does it provide you access to information you do not need to know, it opens up all kinds of issues with privacy, harassment, etc.
  7. View only publicly available information – most of what you need to know can be found in the public data. No need to ask for an applicant’s access or password, or to friend or “connect” with them to see additional data.
  8. If you use social media data to reject an applicant, point to clear, legitimate hiring requirements for reason to not hire (e.g. poor judgment) – your reason for not hiring someone should be sound. Enough said. Social media data is no exception.
  9. Gain applicant’s consent – it really is a good idea to follow the same notice and disclosure policies you would with any pre employment screen. Let the applicant know you will be checking their social media footprint and gain their consent.


Using social media in the hiring process is a very real and very valuable tool. Be aware of the issues involved, consult legal advice to help you set up your program and feel free to contact us at Tandem Select. We are leading the way.

Views: 75

Comment by Heather Wienbrock on May 2, 2011 at 1:38pm
Great post!
Comment by John Heffron on May 2, 2011 at 2:12pm

We don't do it and I am not a fan of doing it, but if you do it I agree strongly with having a plan especially number 5 and 9.  Good post! 

Comment by Chuck Klein on May 2, 2011 at 2:26pm

Many recruiters connect with applicants via Linkedin, especially when the initial contact was via Linkedin.


I'm not sure I see this being a problem, as both the recruiter and applicant want to exapnd their networking capabilities.

Comment by Reb Blanchard on May 2, 2011 at 3:10pm

LI, because it was designed to be a professional networking tool in not in the same category as social sites and too many people don't understand the difference as evidenced by the way they "connect" the different sites.

That said, I believe the approach of using social media in reviewing a candidate as fit for employment even if it done consistently (defined objectives, consistent use of sites, etc.) falls under the category of unrealistic. Almost no (I'll give you 2%)  hiring manager nor professional HR can ignore information they see on a website that if heard in an interview would make them nervous about a hire.

Don't believe me? Try this. Imagine you meet a new couple at a friend's tailgate or barbeque. One of them gets intoxicated to the point of talking incoherently before falling asleep while their spouse proceeds to flirt agressively with every unattached person of the opposite gender while their spouse naps. A couple of weeks later, one of them shows up as a candidate interviewing for a critical position in the company. Think you might be impartial? Or would the knowledge that you gained in a social situation that would never come about in a professional interview influence your opioion.

If you answer that you would still be completely impartial, then you're a better person than I am. I also would like to offer my services as a recruiter because I have a feeling you may need them sooner or later.

For this reason, I'd leave it alone and stick to more traditional criteria and means of obtaining them.


Comment by Courtney Hunt on May 5, 2011 at 10:45am
Excellent advice, Jerry! The only point I would counter is #9, and only in part. The only widely used social media platform on which people have some expectation of privacy is Facebook. If an employer excludes that from their social screening process (which I think they should), they don't need to get prior consent. Any information they get from other public sources is fair game. Adding a note on an application/ATS page indicating those sources will be checked is a good practice, but I don't think advance consent is necessary.

Another thought I had while reading your tips is that hiring managers need to completely understand, respect, and abide by an employer's best-practice guidelines. As professionals, HR and recruiting folks pose less of a risk than hiring managers. Training and communication for other people involved in the hiring process is imperative.

Last fall I wrote a white paper entitled "Social Screening: Candidates - and Employers - Beware" that dovetails nicely with this post. It can be accessed via http://tiny.cc/SocialScreeningPaper. I would love for you to share a link back to this post there are well.

Courtney Hunt
Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community


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