Best Practices for Pre-Employment Social Media Screening


Employer holding cellphone with social media apps on screening depecting best practices for social media screening at work

Over 70% of employers believe pre-employment social media screening is a helpful way to vet candidates and the majority admit to doing it, but a do-it-yourself approach can spell danger.

As businesses increasingly rely on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook to connect with customers and promote their brands, it’s also becoming more common for hiring managers to check candidates’ social media profiles to evaluate potential employees. However, adopting a DIY approach can create unnecessary risks for your organization.

Many employers don’t train hiring managers on how to screen candidates’ online presences, so you might stumble upon online content meant for friends. Worse, you can create unnecessary risks of legal exposures for your organization if you fail to comply with anti-discrimination laws in your jurisdiction.

Benefits of Social Media Screening

Social media screening can provide a range of benefits to employers. By evaluating a candidate’s online presence, you may gain insights that may not be apparent from a résumé or interview. For example, a candidate’s online writing may provide extra evidence of their attention to detail, creativity, or thought leadership skills. 

Risks of Social Media Screening

While you might glean extra insights during the hiring process, it’s also important to be aware of the risks. One of the main risks is the potential for discrimination. 

Through online screening you might get access to personal information that’s protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as a candidate’s race, gender, or religion. Given this, you need to be careful to avoid making hiring decisions based on these protected characteristics. 

Additionally, it can create privacy concerns for candidates. While public profiles are fair game for screening, employers should avoid asking for access to private profiles or engaging in covert monitoring. You might make candidates feel uncomfortable or violated if they believe their personal lives are being scrutinized without their knowledge or consent, not to mention it can lead to negative employer branding and legal consequences.

social media screening on smartphone

Best Practices for Social Media Screening

While checking online activity can be a valuable tool to get more insight into who you’re hiring, it’s important to approach the practice with sensitivity and caution. It’s also important to follow the guidelines in your jurisdiction. 

When done correctly, it can give you more job-relevant insights into a candidate. When done incorrectly with a do-it-yourself approach and subjective judgments, you open up your company up to unnecessary risks of legal exposures.

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Consistency is Key – Establish a clear set of guidelines, like job-relevant risk categories, and apply them consistently across all candidates. 
  2. Respect Candidate Privacy – Candidates can consent to having their public profiles searched as part of your hiring process, but it’s important to respect candidates’ privacy and avoid digging too deep into their personal lives. It’s illegal to ask for access to private profiles or to engage in covert monitoring.
  3. Consider the Context – When evaluating a candidate’s online presence, consider the context in which the posts were made. Were comments from a personal account or a professional one? Were the posts made in the context of a heated debate or as part of a larger cultural conversation? Six years ago? Understanding the context can help you make more nuanced judgements.
  4. Don’t Ignore Bias – This type of online background screening can be useful, but it’s important to be aware of the potential for bias in hiring. Make sure you’re evaluating candidates based on their qualifications and abilities, and other job-relevant criteria, rather than personal factors such as race, gender, or religious affiliation.
  5. Communicate Clearly – If you do engage in screening, be sure to communicate your policies clearly to candidates. Let them know what information you’ll be looking for and how it will be used in the hiring process.

FAQs About Social Media Screening

  1. How do employers typically navigate the legal complexities and potential privacy concerns associated with social media screening, especially in jurisdictions with stringent anti-discrimination laws?
  2. What are some common challenges faced by employers when implementing social media screening, and how can they effectively train hiring managers to conduct these screenings in a compliant and ethical manner?
  3. Are there specific industry standards or recommended practices for social media screening that hiring managers should adhere to, particularly concerning the types of information they should consider and the limitations they should respect in candidates’ online profiles?

Navigating Legal Complexities

Navigating the legal complexities and potential privacy concerns associated with social media screening requires a multi-faceted approach inside your company or organization. Your legal, compliance, and operations teams probably already have a process for how to stay informed about anti-discrimination laws in your jurisdiction and ensure that screening practices comply with these regulations. This might involve establishing clear guidelines for what information can be considered during the screening process and training hiring managers to make objective assessments based on job-related criteria rather than protected characteristics such as race, gender, or religion. Additionally, respecting candidates’ privacy rights is essential, which means avoiding requests for access to private profiles and conducting screenings transparently with candidates’ consent.

Anticipating Common Challenges

Employers my face challenges when implementing social media screening, particularly in training hiring managers to conduct these screenings ethically and compliantly. Effective training should educate hiring managers on your team about the legal implications of social media screening, emphasizing the importance of consistent application of screening criteria and adherence to privacy laws. Additionally, training programs should provide guidance on identifying and avoiding bias in the screening process, ensuring that candidates are evaluated based on their qualifications and abilities rather than personal characteristics.

Industry Standards

While there may not be universal industry standards for social media screening, best practices, like the ones called out above, recommend establishing clear guidelines and protocols for conducting screenings. Remember, “consistency is key.”

These guidelines may include defining job-relevant risk categories, respecting candidates’ privacy rights, considering the context of online posts, and avoiding bias in decision-making. Adhering to these best practices can help employers conduct social media screenings effectively and ethically, ultimately facilitating informed hiring decisions and promoting a fair and inclusive hiring process.

Facebook social media screening on laptop

Social Media Screening Tools

Overall, social media screening can be a valuable tool for evaluating candidates, but it’s important to approach it with care and sensitivity. By establishing clear guidelines, respecting privacy, considering context, and avoiding bias, you can use the findings to make informed hiring decisions and find the best fit for your company.

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