Suzanne Lucas

Social Media and Hiring: What You Need to Know

Everyone knows that what you say on social media can come back to haunt you. Yet, when people get into an online argument, they aren’t thinking about the inevitable combination of social media and hiring decisions — they’re thinking about making their point.

That’s the sort of interaction that tends to leave a mark on a candidate. Many companies use social media screening, whether informally and formally.

But how much influence should an embarrassing social media profile have over whether you ultimately decide to hire someone? Here’s what to consider before you delve into the depths of a candidate’s Twitter rants.

Which Social Media Profiles Matter in Hiring?

The big-name platforms are easily searchable. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and LinkedIn all contain information about who a person is and how they present themselves to the world. Sites and apps such as TikTok, Reddit and 4chan can have some interesting information, but those profiles are much less likely to use candidates’ real names, making them more challenging to monitor.

Activity on the big sites has caused more than a few people to lose their jobs. CNN photo editor Mohammed Elshamy resigned after tweets he made as a teenager came to light, for instance, and the Philadelphia Police Department fired 13 police officers for writing racist Facebook posts. Though most people won’t have their profiles scrutinized too heavily before hiring, it’s common practice for businesses to do at least a cursory search before hiring someone.

What’s at Stake for Companies?

Good social media screening can prevent a lot of future embarrassment, but it can also raise problems. It’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on religion (or lack thereof), for example — information that’s often displayed on social media. You can sometimes even tell an applicant’s race from viewing their LinkedIn profile. Of course, you’d learn that in an interview anyway, but knowing it during the initial screening stage places an extra burden on you to ensure fairness. You may learn about marital status, how many children they have and their sexual orientation. None of this should affect your hiring decision.

Companies, therefore, are in a tough spot. Do you skip the social media search and cross your fingers that your hire doesn’t have a penchant for posting questionable material online? Or is it best to do some digging and risk finding yourself on the receiving end of a discrimination lawsuit?

How You Should Evaluate Social Media Profiles

Before you browse a candidate’s social media profiles, establish some guidelines. These will vary from industry to industry and job to job. A public relations role, for instance, will probably require higher personal social media standards than other roles will. Run your policy by your employment manager to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

As part of your guidelines, identify the range of years you want to search through. After all, people change. You probably wouldn’t hire the person you were as a teenager, so don’t judge your 25-year-old job candidates by what they did at 15, either.

The search should provide a neutral report. Some companies outsource this; others may designate one employee to handle social media checks. Avoid assigning this task to a hiring manager — it’s too easy for them to see information that shouldn’t affect their final decision.

So, what do you look for in a profile? Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Racism, sexism and mean behavior. Please note, this does not mean you should draw any conclusions about someone based on religious or political affiliations. However, it’s smart to flag statements that support racism or other intolerance.
  • Denigrating previous employers by name. It’s natural to want to vent sometimes. Don’t judge too harshly when someone complains about their anonymous boss online. However, if they bad-mouth their employer while their profile prominently displays that employer’s identity, that’s a different story.
  • Illegal activity. Do you want to hire someone who brags about ripping off the local dry cleaner? Probably not.
  • Reckless or highly irresponsible action. A picture of an adult holding a beer is fine. A picture of an adult riding on top of a moving station wagon with a fifth of liquor isn’t.

When to Skip a Social Media Check Altogether

If the position doesn’t represent the company in the media or to the board of directors, you may wish to skip a social media search. Instead, implement a social media policy for employees that encourages them to be smart about their online activity and makes clear what kind of posts aren’t acceptable.

Why You Should Never Ask for Passwords

Some jurisdictions have laws against this, but every company should have a policy against it. Unless the role in question requires a top-secret security clearance, you should not ask candidates for their social media passwords. It’s an inappropriate invasion of privacy.

Social media and hiring are connected, and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change any time soon. When in doubt, leave potential hires’ personal lives alone. However, a strong social media policy for hiring can assure you that you’re protecting your business without missing out on quality candidates.

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