by Flex HR

Using Social Media To Evaluate Job Candidates

Lots of valuable information can be learned by employers who use social media to evaluate various job candidates. However, there are always risks involved to this method.

The hiring process as of late has been a struggle. But finally, your recruiting director is making headway and is down to three well-qualified candidates for the position your company has been looking to fill for months. But in these final decisions comes the question of which candidate is truly the best for the job and company overall. Social media resources are so readily inviting and available to the public that even business professionals think of pursuing these avenues for a little more insight to the answers they seek.

The question becomes, should you consider social media when evaluating job candidates? Is it okay to look at an applicant’s social media profile as a peep into their personal lives as to what they may bring to the company?

In response to a recent Harris Poll, 60 percent of hiring managers say employers should screen all applicants’ social media profiles, and 69 percent say looking at the social media profiles of job candidates is effective.

Social Media Screening for job applications


Knowing the Risks

The Society for HR Management (SHRM) asked Flex HR for expert perception. “Social media can be both a blessing and a curse when hiring,” says Jennifer Preston, an HR consultant with Flex HR. “While social media channels can yield ample benefits for HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers for vetting job candidates, consulting such sources can also be risky—particularly when they are used to evaluate candidates based on their personal lives, opinions and what they choose to post and re-post.” Preston says this information can create dangerous biases that can lead to legal risks.

And while an employer might not be violating any laws using social media outlets by looking at a prospective individual’s interests, there becomes a fine line as to the material that is found on social media. Marlene Allen Murray, a business litigation attorney at the law firm Fennemore Craig, says that “social media posts can reveal a more honest view of an applicant than what they might share during an interview,” she says.

Though, Murray adds that there’s a big caveat: Employers must not use the information they find on social media outlets “to discriminate against a candidate based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender or other protected classes.” Employers, Murray says, “might be sued by a candidate if any unlawful prejudice is shown by the employer during the recruitment process,” even if employers do not intentionally or explicitly use the information they find online.

“Peeking into someone’s life creates a bias in the hiring decision, as the recruiter can now see or learn about someone’s age, religion, political affiliation and beliefs, sexual orientation, and other protected and private classes of information,” Preston says. “Passing on a candidate after knowing these things could pose legal challenges if a candidate knows a recruiter viewed certain profiles or stories.” That’s true even if the information is not directly related to the hiring decision.

Social Media Job Screening


Minimizing the Risks

Hiring managers know there are HR risks involved when considering using social media search tactics. Preston explains “appropriate uses of conducting a social media search on a job candidate include determining if the candidate is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job and evaluating whether the candidate’s profile is consistent with their resume and the answers they give during the interview process.”

Biases are inadvertently formed, but HR best practices guard gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation which cannot be used against the candidate. Sticking to the outright relevant reasons recruiters are looking for in their hiring decisions is usually the best way to minimize the risk.

Some companies have formed policies regarding what social media outlets may be used for in the workplace and written out in their employee handbooks. If these guidelines are being followed appropriately, then any social media discoveries about the applicant should be objectively assessed as to what is relevant for the job requirements of the position.

So what’s the bottom line? “The essence of using social media to evaluate a candidate should be to determine if this person can perform the essential functions of the job,” says Preston. “Is this person’s candidacy accurate and consistent with their resume?” Asking that question when evaluating information learned during the hiring process is the most important step you can take in determining whether you’ve come across a true red flag or just irrelevant information.

Contact Flex HR today to ensure your Human Resources are in the right hands.