1. Develop a clear cut policy. Set in place the sites that will be screened, and the information you will be trying to find. While positive and negative information may be uncovered about the candidate, the best practice is to look for relevant information related to their work. While you don’t really need to be privy to the fact that they kissed a boy in the streets of New Orleans, you would need to know about unsavory behaviors like racial slurs, threats of violence, or misleading information about their work history or education background.
2. Get the applicant’s consent. It’s considered best practice to follow the same notice and disclosure policies as you normally would with any pre-employment screen. Advise the applicant that part of your company’s screening process entails checking their social media footprint, and gain their consent.
3. Remember that consistency is the key. One of an employer’s most important defenses in a lawsuit is consistency within company policies. Social media screening policies should specifically outline the sites screened and the information being sought. This policy needs to be applied to EVERY candidate. You can get yourself into trouble by using a ‘go with your gut’ strategy and screening only those people you feel looks suspicious. If the policy states you do not screen Twitter tweets because you feel they have no relevant information about job performance, don’t suddenly look at it if the candidate looks sneaky or has too many piercings.
4. Use a third party to perform the search. If the person conducting the hiring performs the social media search themselves, it is a given that they will eventually see information they should not use in the hiring process. Examples of this are a person’s age, race, religion, health condition, etc. Using a third party, independent researcher to perform the search will greatly reduce this risk. The researcher (which can be someone from outside the hiring department but still within the company OR a third party background screening company) should work from a list the hiring manager has pre-defined that they want to discover about the candidate. Upon completion, the researcher can return his findings, while omitting any information that is illegal to use in a hiring decision. This practice will ensure that the person or people making the hiring decision do not have access to protected information.
5. Do not friend the applicant or ask them for their passwords! Both actions are big No No’s and can bring on all kinds of trouble. When screening job applicants by utilizing social media, view only public information. Do not ‘friend’, ‘follow, or ‘connect’ with the applicant so you can see additional, private information. And never ask the applicant for the passwords to their social media accounts. Most social media sites have privacy sections in their agreements for service that ban a user from sharing his login information. Additionally, several states have even gone so far as to already pass legislation banning companies from asking for individual’s passwords. This needs to be viewed as a big invasion of privacy and avoided at all costs.
6. Have a concrete reason if you deny employment to the applicant. If a social media search returns information that causes you to reject an applicant, an employer needs to be able to point to specific hiring requirements as a reason to not hire a person (such as evidence the person has badmouthed their current employer, participated in illegal activities, lied about their background, etc).
7. Give the applicant a chance to explain. If a piece of information is found on social media that would weigh against the applicant’s chances of being hired, do not write them off immediately. Showing the applicant what was found on social media, telling them why it’s a concern, and giving them a chance to explain is an important part of the screening policy. Perhaps the negative information was inaccurate or misleading. There is also a chance it was a different person of the same name. The applicant deserves the chance to refute the information.
It is highly recommended and advisable for a company to implement these steps into their pre-employment screening policy BEFORE they begin utilizing social media to screen applicants.
And remember, while social media sites can offer up lots of valuable information on a potential job candidate and his fit within the company, this should not be the only background screening tool utilized in the hiring decision. In order to make a sound hiring decision, social media screening should be used thoughtfully along with the traditional methods of screening.
Using social media sites to screen job candidates is not risk-free. However, when implemented into an employer’s current policy and with guidelines intelligently drawn, social media screening can supply a better, all-round understanding of the job candidate.
~~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.