When it comes to screening an applicant’s background, knowledge is power. The more knowledge a company collects about an applicant, the better that company can be at discerning whether or not the applicant is a good ‘fit’.
As more and more people sign on to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the many other social media sites available, hiring professionals are becoming more tempted to take a peek at the information before hiring an applicant. Who can blame them? There is virtually a goldmine of potentially valuable information to be gleaned from a person’s profile, blog, photographs, or collection of tweets. Companies could benefit greatly by knowing about an applicant's online presence up front.
However, this type of investigation is not without its risks. There is a sea of controversy swirling around about utilizing social media to screen job candidates, and whether or not a company should do it.
According to a survey recently conducted by Careerbuilder, 37% of companies use social media to screen their applicants, and 11% of companies plan to use it in the near future. Social media allows hiring managers to gain unprecedented access to information about the applicant. They can discover negative aspects (vulgar language, bad grammar, illegal activities) and also positive information (charity work, good communication skills, awards received) with just a few clicks of a mouse. Someone who will not represent the business in a professional manner online could be detrimental to the business’s reputation and public persona. It can sometimes take years for a company to recover from just one faux pas by an employee!
However, there are drawbacks to utilizing social media in pre-employment screening. A profile also may show information about a person’s race, age, religion, or disability; all of which are illegal to use in the hiring process. Once an employer sees this information, they cannot ‘unring the bell.’ Once you have it, there is no way to prove it had no bearing on the hiring process. Employers that use social media sites to make employment-related decisions without taking the time to implement them into their current hiring policy processes could be violating employment and privacy laws, opening themselves up to expensive lawsuits and bad press!
The water is further muddied by the fact that there is very little legislation in place that deals with social media screening. In some ways, it’s the new wild frontier!
While it’s not illegal to look at a candidate’s social media footprint, it’s advisable to consider several matters before you hop on the internet to check out a potential employee.
Next week we will discuss crucial steps that need to be put into place if your company is considering utilizing social media to screen job applicants.
~~Susan McCullah is the Marketing Project Manager/ Background Screening Division for Data Facts, Inc, a 24 year old Memphis based company. Data Facts Inc -an NAPBS accredited company- is a leading provider of employment screening solutions. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.