When you google me, my social media accounts show up as three of the top five results: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. So, when hiring managers google candidates, are they looking at social media? You betcha, as we say up here in the frozen tundra. They are – but should they be?
Ask employment attorneys that question, and you’ll get mixed results. Some argue that employers should know as much as possible about a candidate before hire, including what the candidate does or says on social media. Other attorneys will tell you that social media is a minefield of protected class information, and that employers should steer clear of it when recruiting. Legal opinions aside, reviewing candidates’ social media is common, and according to Jobvite's 2014 Social Recruiting Survey, 55 percent of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on a review of the candidate’s social media presence.
We believe that employers can make use of the insights and information provided by social media and online searches if they take steps to minimize the potential for discrimination or other legal missteps. For example:
1. Decide in advance what will disqualify a candidate. Before googling or searching social media, employers should determine what, among the things that might be revealed, will disqualify an applicant. Profanity? References to drugs or alcohol? Complaints about the applicant’s current job? Information that contradicts the background or qualifications provided by the applicant? What about bad grammar (a top negative finding, according to the Jobvite survey)? Having decided what will or won’t disqualify a candidate, employers can prepare a checklist. If one of the disqualifiers appears in a candidate’s social media presence, it can be flagged for further review, while other search results need not be passed on. Of course, the list of disqualifiers should vary depending on the position for which the applicant is applying; bad grammar, for example, might very well disqualify a copy editor but will probably not disqualify a janitor. And think “ban the box” – the disqualifiers should only be things the law allows you to consider.
2. Select a qualified “googler.” Human resources professionals are an obvious choice to review online information, including social media, since they are likely to have more training in lawful hiring practices. Hiring managers and others can certainly be the reviewers, but should only take on the role if they have a good understanding of what can and cannot be considered when screening applications. It may also be wise to create some distance between the googler and the final decision makers.
3. Wait as late in the process as possible. We recommend googling and searching social media only after the hiring manager has reviewed applications and selected candidates for interview. If the search raises issues, they can be handled as a part of the interview process. This schedule avoids the unnecessary work and potential risk associated with reviewing non job-related information about lots of people.
4. Ask the candidate if concerns arise. If a search of social media, or any other result of a google search, reveals a disqualifier, it’s usually worthwhile to ask the candidate about it. Although some search results may be so clearly disqualifying that further inquiry is unnecessary, there will be situations where an explanation from the candidate will make a difference. If the candidate seems otherwise well-qualified for the job, the extra effort involved in asking for an explanation may be time well spent.
Remember that social media can reveal positive things about a candidate. Employers may find that a particular candidate is excited about their work, talks with thought leaders about it, or has a sense of humor that will be a great addition to the team. This sort of information gives a fuller picture of a candidate, and may fill in gaps left by reviewing a resume or application.
Finally, keep in mind that if googling is done by human resources, the hiring manager, or others inside the hiring organization, there’s no need to worry about the Fair Credit Reporting Act and its background check procedures. However, if a third party, such as an outside recruiter, conducts an online search, all the appropriate FCRA procedures (including notice requirements) must be followed. Please plan accordingly.
Posted by: Kate Bischoff