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Social media screening for employment: tips, best practices, and concerns

For better or for worse, what we post on social media says a lot about us as people. That's why more and more employers are using social media screening as a part of their hiring process. While some argue that this is an invasion of privacy, the fact is that social media screening can give employers a well-rounded view of a prospective employee that they wouldn't be able to get from a resume or cover letter alone. That being said, there are certain issues associated with social media screening.

What is Social Media Screening?

Social media screening is the process of using an applicant's social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to help make decisions about their employment. This can include everything from looking at an applicant's posts and photos to see if they're a good fit for the company culture to seeing how they interact with others online.

Why Social Media Screening Matters

Despite the challenges, there are several good reasons why employers should consider social media screening as part of their hiring process. Let's break down these reasons.

The Pros of Social Media Screening for Employment:

It gives employers a well-rounded view of the applicant.

Our social media profiles are often an extension of our offline selves. As such, they can give employers valuable insights into who we are and what kind of employee we would be.

It can help employers avoid potential legal problems down the road.

If an employer hires someone without doing any sort of background check, and that person ends up being a bad egg, the company could be held liable. But if the employer did their due diligence and screened the applicant's social media profiles, they can make a more informed decision about whether or not to hire them.

It allows employers to see how applicants interact with others online.

An applicant’s social media profile can give clues as to how they interact with others online. This is valuable information for employers because it can indicate what kind of employee the person would be. For example, if an applicant regularly posts inflammatory or offensive comments on social media, that would likely not bode well for their chances of being hired by most companies.

It can help identify red flags that may not show up on a resume.

Let’s say an applicant has a clean criminal record and their resume looks great—on paper, they seem like the perfect candidate for the job. Reviewing their social media accounts could further confirm this – or present some red flags.

Social media screening can help employers save time and money in the long run.

Hiring is time-consuming and expensive—the last thing any employer wants to do is waste time and resources on someone who turns out to be a bad fit for the job (or worse). By screening applicants' social media profiles before extending an offer, employers can save themselves a lot of time and money down the road.

Why Social Media Screening Can Be Problematic

While social media screening for potential hires can pay off, there are also a number of risks associated with this practice that employers need to be aware of.

Social media screening can lead to inadvertent biases.

The first risk is that employers may inadvertently violate state and federal laws. For example, under the National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal for employers to consider an applicant's membership in a protected class when making hiring decisions. However, if an employer is screening job candidates' social media activity, they may inadvertently take protected characteristics like race, religion, or gender into account.

Social media screening may showcase inaccurate information.

Another risk is that employers may not be able to verify the accuracy of the information they find on an applicant's social media profile. For example, an applicant may list false information on their profile in order to appear more qualified for a position. Alternatively, an applicant's social media profile may have been hacked, and the information on it may not be accurate.

Social media screening may showcase irrelevant information.

Finally, there is a risk that employers will base their hiring decisions on irrelevant or unimportant information. For example, an employer may decide not to hire an applicant because they posted a photo of themselves drinking alcohol on their social media profile. However, this information would not necessarily be indicative of the applicant's ability to do their job well.

Screening Prospective Employees: What to Look for on Social Media

If you’re ready to start calling people for interviews (after reviewing resumes, cover letters, and references), then it might be the perfect time for a social media screening. When reviewing social media accounts, it’s important to remain as unbiased as possible. Do not let personal preferences or viewpoints cloud your judgment. What you’re looking for is how applicants communicate and interact with their communities. Here are a few useful tips when screening social media profiles.

Check for unprofessional usernames.

A prospective employee's social media username should be professional. If their username is something like "drunken party girl" or "stoners R us," that's a red flag. You want to hire someone who is going to represent your company in a positive light, both online and in-person. While this isn’t necessarily a make-it-or-break-it scenario, if your company is concerned about appearance, then you may need to address it during an interview.

Look for pictures that could be considered unprofessional.

Similar to an unprofessional username, pictures that show alcohol consumption or illegal drug use could be cause for concern. Even if the pictures are from a party or event and not posted by the prospective employee, it still says something about their character. In addition, profanity-laced photos or those with obscene gestures are also best avoided. But again, this might simply be a topic for discussion during an interview. Are they willing to make these photos private or remove them if hired?

Review posts for appropriateness.

Take a scroll through the prospective employee's posts, looking for anything that could be considered offensive, discriminatory, or pornographic. Inflammatory posts could also be cause for concern; you don't want to hire someone who is going to start arguments with customers or clientele online.

Check the comments section.

The comments section can often be more telling than the posts themselves. See what others are saying about the prospective employee; if they're constantly getting into arguments or being accused of offensive behavior, that's a red flag. Also, take note of how the prospective employee responds to negative comments; do they engage in a respectful discussion or do they lash out?

Social media screenings have become increasingly common as part of the hiring process, but there are some risks associated with this practice, including discrimination and invasion of privacy. Overall, while social media screenings have their advantages, there are also some disadvantages that should be considered before implementing this practice in your organization's hiring process.


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