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Social Media screening : Researching New Candidates or Snooping?

Many employers now use social media screening as part of their recruitment process, but where does researching new candidates cross the line to become snooping? How far should you go with your candidate background checks when using social media?

We want to make the right hiring choice, so it is perfectly logical to do a thorough background check on those candidates that make it through to your shortlist. Finding out whether a potential candidate would be a good fit for your company can save you a lot of time and hassle if further down the line you suddenly discover something not quite right about their application.

Conducting a social media check can reveal a lot about a potential candidate and whether the claims on their CV ring true or not. Long gone are the days that you could take a CV or a set of references and accept them in the belief that everything stated is entirely truthful.

Useful Tool

There is no denying that social media is a useful tool to help discover someone’s background. It really has become such a normal part of everyday life for working age adults that you can find out a lot about their attitudes, interests and personality. You can evaluate how their feel about their work and career desires to get a picture of how loyal and reliable they are likely to be within the role on offer.

There are lots of useful pieces of information that you can pick up. For example if you are looking for someone who is willing to stick around for a while and who would make a good employee to invest your time and training into, then you are not going to be impressed to find out on social media that a potential candidate is only looking for work for a year to finance them to go travelling.

For an employer, here are some things to look out for while doing your social media research:

  • Posting negative comments about their current job or the clients or customers they deal with
  • Plans for re-training or courses booked or being taken in an unrelated work field
  • Who they are talking to on LinkedIn, such as a leading influencer or networking with rival companies
  • How eloquently they communicate their thoughts – this can show that they have good communication skills, which could be a very important factor for the role on offer
  • How they talk to others – are they positive and supportive? Do they offer to help someone who is struggling with an issue? This can show that they have a conscientious side and would work well in a team setting where they would be willing to support their co-workers

Of course, there are lots more useful things that you can pick up from their social media activity, but it is knowing when to draw the line and stop with your digging.

Crossing the line

A lot of people actively treat social media as their personal space where they can go and express themselves. Others use social media with a more targeted approach to connect with peers and fellow professionals within the same industry. Your interpretation of their online activity can be very subjective, so you may not see the clear lines an individual has set to divide their personal activity with their working life.

You may interpret their interactions with industry peers as a little suspect. What if they were to give away sensitive company information to one of your business rivals, either by accident or on purpose? While your thinking may lean this way, maybe the truth is more innocent than that. It could be that their interactions with their peers is simply a way of gleaning new knowledge, or figuring out a more efficient way of doing things – information that could actually benefit them in their role and improve their work performance.

What do candidates think of this?

It is interesting to know that according to a study conducted by North Carolina State University, when candidates discover that potential employers have been checking their personal accounts, they consider this to be an invasion of their privacy and think it is unfair that their job application should be judged by what they post online, or who they are interacting with through social media.

What employers need to be careful with here is that by using social media research to check on a candidates background, they don’t risk going too far and end up damaging their own brand reputation in the process. The last thing you want to happen as a company is to be known as a snooper. This can seriously affect how prospective candidates see your company, and you could end up with a negative candidate experience reputation that could drive away much sought after talent.

Getting the balance right

Other than asking yourself whether it is morally acceptable to conduct social media research on a prospective candidate, should you let what you discover influence your hiring decision?

As an employer, you know it is your main priority to hire the right person based on their skills and experiences that are suitable for the role on offer. But you would also like to think that you would hire someone that is also the right fit for the job based on their personality and how smoothly they would integrate into your company culture.

Knowing when to stop researching is the key here. Regardless of how the candidate feels about their social media activity being looked at, profile scanning by employers is something that is not going to go away any time soon. It is far too valuable a tool to ignore.

Determining how much you need to know is the first step. A general overview to gauge interests, motivations and attitude may be enough to establish whether they would fit in well with those they would be working alongside, so that is where you should stop. A good employer will know how much information is enough and what to ignore.