Social Media Background Checks, What Are You Actually Looking For?

When onboarding a new hire, it can be tough to determine from just a standard background check who these candidates really are. Sure, it can shed light on their past, so an employer can see what they’ve previously been involved with. However, social media background checks can give you an updated idea of what candidates have recently been up to.

In this article, you will understand the ins and outs of a background check and how utilizing social media for these purposes can further expand the knowledge of the amount of qualifications that candidates have obtained in their career.

The Purpose of a Background Check

Before bringing in a new hire, it is important to really get to know them and find out what they have to offer your company. Doing a background check on candidates can allow employers to learn more about the candidates work experience, personality and academic accomplishments. Understanding what each candidate can bring to the table is important in that these background checks can give the employers a feel of what they are bringing into the company specifically. Learning about where a potential employee went to school, previously worked and what their skills are, can help determine what kind of character they may possess and if they have the abilities to complete daily job expectations.

Common Information to Look Out For

While a standard background check will give employers necessary information on the potential new hire, a social media background check may give them a bit more information. While it is imperative to know exactly what you can and cannot look for within these social media accounts, things that are publicly posted can potentially determine whether or not these candidates get hired.

Illegal Activities

If a standard background check comes up clean as a whistle and you see that your candidate has had no trouble with the law, they may seem like an obvious hire. However, their social media pages may reckon to something different. It is important to note that especially depending on state laws, only public accounts can be accessed and only information that relates to the job can be used during this process. Once a public page is accessed, an employer could possibly find illegal activity that had been posted or linked to the candidate’s page. These types of posts would be convicting knowledge of drug consumption by the candidate and can immediately take that person out of the application process.

Risky Content

A public profile will allow anyone to see what has been posted or commented on that particular page. If comments that seem risky and derogatory are posted, this could be used against them during the hiring process. However, it is also important to note that any information that is used for or against the candidate must be relayed to the candidate themselves to give them a chance of defense against anything documented from that page. Anything that is found on a social media page should be thoroughly documented. Employers want to look for risky content on the page such as racist or sexist content that may not correlate with company values and expectations.

Education and Employment

In a resume, candidates may include things such as where they attended school or where their previous employment was. Utilizing social media background checking may allow employers to fact check candidates to make sure that all information is the same. While being able to fact check, employers can also cross reference by contacting previous employers and making sure that their education came from an accredited institution.

Statements and Comments

As previously stated, anything that is publicly posted can be used for or against potential hires, in accordance with applicable law. It is important that what is said by these candidates is not damaging to the company brand or name in any way. If malicious commentary is posted throughout their page, this can be used in a file rejecting their application of employment. While also using social media background checks to file negative commentary, this can also be used as an incentive for outstanding candidates. If all references check out during this process this could mean a great career opportunity and a great asset to the company itself.

Profiles and Screen Names

With social media being so popular it is not uncommon for individuals to have more than one account. With apps and sites such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and so on, many people use these different outlets for different aspects of their lives. While some sites are a bit more professional, some of them are also a bit more personal; and when dealing with personal accounts the understanding of what can be posted can become problematic.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Background Checks

When completing a background check there are certain things that should be done and other things that should be completely avoided. It is important to learn the do’s and don’ts of social media background checking to ensure that everyone has a fair chance during the application process and to ensure that companies are following regulations given for the hiring process.

The Do’s

It is important to stay up to date with state laws and regulations to ensure that the background checks are done properly. With social media laws currently changing, remaining ignorant to the laws can cause a liability for the company. Previously mentioned, only public profiles can be used in the social media background check process. Any information that is found by the employer must be in relation to the company’s values and expectations. Therefore, if something is used against them it must have something to do with their abilities to complete job expectations, rather than using information based on race, gender or religion against the candidate. Anything that is obtained during a social media background check must be presented to the candidate and they must be given a chance to explain or elaborate on the collected information. Nothing can be brought to the candidate’s attention unless it is documented. An employer cannot verbally explain what they found on their accounts, but rather give them proof that way things can be explained properly and thoroughly. Also, while it may seem unnecessary for employers to stay current on the terms of service of each social media site, it is actually imperative that they do so. Going against the terms of service of any individual site can potentially omit anything that was found that could be used against a candidate.

The Don’ts

In many states, it is illegal for employers to request login information from applicants. Therefore, requesting or demanding that type of information from potential employees is prohibited. When deciding to utilize social media background checks it is important to not perform the check until after the employer has interviewed the candidate. Sifting through their social media pages before interviewing them may cause the interviewer to develop unintentional biases about the interviewee. Getting to know the candidate in person can help the check run smoother by being able to have met this persona that you are later studying online. The applicant should absolutely be aware that their public social media profiles will be used during the onboarding process, however it is not wise to friend request the applicant.

4 Ways to Maximize Your Background Checks

Although social media background checks may seem complicated compared to standard background checks, there are ways to keep the concept simple. Leaving these responsibilities in the hands of people who specialize in this is imperative.

Leave it to HR

Keeping the background check process in the hands of HR (human resources) is the safest bet for any company. Trying to maintain this process by performing it on your own can cause many legal issues for the company. Someone who is experienced in HR will know what can and cannot be used as useful information during the social media check.

Be Consistent

Being that it is common for people to have more than one social media account, it is suggested to view the different accounts to be able to cross reference information. Different accounts may obtain different information about the applicant and viewing them all can give a better idea of what the applicants are like outside of the workplace.

Think About the Source

With many posts found on a candidate’s page being posted by them specifically, many others have the potential to put their mark on someone else’s page as well. When viewing posts by other people on a page, the focus should always remain on the actual candidate themselves. Always considering who posted what content and who the individual sources are will help maintain a fair search of collectable information to further examine the applicant. What other people have to say can sometimes be helpful and can sometimes be useless information.

Document Decisions

Any information obtained during the background check should be well documented. If anything needs to be used as a means of rejection it is important that the applicant know what was found and used on their profiles that do not correlate with company values and/or regulations. If an employee is hired after reviewing their social media profiles it is also important to document anything that was found that ensured them to receive the job offer to make sure that no discriminatory actions took place during the onboarding process.

Why You May Not Want to Rely on Social Media Alone

Being sure to utilize social media background checks after interviewing the applicant is important in that relying on social media alone may give an employer the wrong idea about them. While some posts can become inappropriate and go against company regulations, some may just give the general idea that they wouldn’t fit in with the company. Considering these things simply by sifting through a social media page can become a liability if used against the applicant.

You May Get an Incomplete Picture

People carry themselves differently in public than they do at home. The same goes for being inside and outside of work. One may have a very professional lifestyle in the workplace but on their social media sites may seem to be a bit more carefree. This does not necessarily mean that they are not qualified for the job, but it may give an employer the wrong impression. Getting to know the applicant before looking through their public profiles will allow the employer to get a better vision and feel for who the applicant is before meeting their online persona.

Irrelevant Information

While some information on social media sites can be deemed as useful, not all of the content could possibly be utilized. Imagine scrolling through a social media page and seeing nothing but playlists of songs or pictures of nature all throughout. Sure, these things may give you an idea of what they are interested in, but it doesn’t quite give any information on their work ethic or abilities that a company would find useful. While some social media sites may be loaded with useful content, not everyone utilized their profiles in a way that could be useful for a social media background check.

Curated Pages

Some social media pages can be loaded with tons of irrelevant content while sometimes the content included can seem almost too perfect. With online personas being so simple to create, an applicant can make themselves seem like they are perfectly qualified for any position. This is why is it imperative to interview candidates before checking their public social media pages. If a person describes themselves as very outgoing and knowledgeable online, but during the interview process a different vibe was given, this could potentially show the employer that they are not entirely honest about their personality and what they can bring into the company.

Privacy Settings

Privacy settings constantly get updated on social media sites. Therefore, it is important to stay current on what these privacy settings consist of. This is again why it is important to only access a public account whilst the applicant is aware of the access. Most social media sites will potentially allow you to learn almost nothing about the applicant if their privacy settings are in order and you are misusing any researching regulations. Also, an applicant will usually only have their account public if they are sure that no content can be used against them.

Legal Issues

Leaving social media background checking in the hands of HR really is the best route to take when conducting this process. Many legal issues can potentially arise when using online information about an applicant. Discrimination claims can occur during the hiring process making the company liable to a lawsuit over a simple social media check.

Summing It Up

Staying current on social media laws and regulations will ensure that a social media background check is done with integrity. Although there are many pros and cons to pursuing a social media background check, it seems that if done properly the pros may outweigh the cons. However, any mistakes that are made could potentially become problematic for the company. Understanding what can and cannot be used is necessary in being able to utilize this social media check in a way for a more advanced onboarding process.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.


AUTHOR: HeidiCorrigan

DATE: 2018-09-06 14:37:47

CATEGORY: Employers