Social media screening – what recruiters need to know

June 1st, 2023

It’s no secret that internal or external recruiters are likely to check a candidate’s social media presence, often starting with LinkedIn which is seen as a secondary CV. Aside from the general confirmation of their employment history, some may be tempted to also delve deeper to find out more about the candidate and their interests, as they assess the person’s suitability for the role or company. However, this type of DIY “social media screening” is fraught with compliance red flags that could land recruiters in hot water if not carefully managed. Of course, one answer may be to outsource social media screening to a third party expert as part of a wider background check program.

Regardless of whether employers intend performing social media checks in-house or via an external partner, we know that social media screening is growing in importance. Sterling’s “Hiring Reimagined” report found that over half (52%) of employers were planning to add more services to make their background screening more effective – and social media screening was at the top of the list for organisations in the EMEA region (it also scored highly in both Asia Pacific and North America). This tells us that employers recognise it as a vital tool in the screening process, as identifying examples of racism, sexism, or other red flags through social tools may help prevent the reputational, financial, and cultural costs of mis-hiring. Organisations want to create cultures of authenticity and maintain trust and safety in their workplaces, and not having the full picture of who a candidate is could put these ideals at risk.

But background screening, of which social media checks can be a pivotal part, also has a wider sphere of influence, especially for the candidate experience, as we also uncovered in our findings. Almost six in 10 (59%) recent job seekers said that knowing that there was a robust screening process in place made them feel more confident about the organisation and role. This makes total sense as you’d want to know you were joining an organisation that had done everything in its powers to hire the people whose values, around diversity and inclusion for example, aligned with theirs.

We’ve established that social media screening will be an increasingly important hiring tool moving forward. Yet without clear guidelines, there are some serious compliance considerations that recruiters must bear in mind if they intend performing checks in-house – with discrimination the most serious of all. The central problem here is that when hiring teams themselves explore personality and behavioural traits, they run the risk of looking at a candidate subjectively given that what they’re looking at on social media may well have nothing to do with the person’s skills, talent, aptitude, or potential to do the job.

The do’s and don’ts of social media screening  

And this is where unconscious bias – when individuals are more likely to hire people who look like them, have the same interests, speak with the same accent, etc. given their learned assumptions around social stereotypes – can creep in and adversely affect hiring decisions. Social media screening can, unfortunately, reinforce these biases if not delivered in the appropriate way. We know only too well that this is a problem not just during the hiring process but internally too, which is why so many organisations train their staff so that they can better recognise how unconscious bias can infiltrate their thoughts and actions. It’s also why many organisations choose to outsource their social media screening – to leverage their compliant processes, flexible search options, global reach, and, perhaps most importantly, their technology-enabled impartiality.

Discriminating against an individual’s “protected characteristics” such as their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, or sexual orientation, all of which are covered in the Equality Act of 2010, is against the law. So, if a candidate can prove that they were discriminated against for any of the above, this may lead to legal recourse. These cases can make the headlines and the negative publicity can cause irreparable damage to the reputation of an employer’s brand, which will not only make it harder to recruit but also to retain existing talent while directly hitting the bottom line. Of course, those employers who outsource social media screening will only be exposed to insights that are relevant to the role or company in question, and will have the peace of mind that compliance obligations are not being compromised.

Recruiters must tread with caution if not using an expert provider to carry out background checks. While social media channels can offer lots of insight about candidates, searches should focus on job relevant information. While using LinkedIn or other online sites to find material that’s in the public domain about the candidate’s professional background is wholly appropriate, general trawling through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok may not be. Candidates should of course be informed of social media searches beforehand and given the opportunity to respond to any adverse findings.

A distinction must be made between personal and private – is social media screening helping in the decision-making process? The legal aspects can be complex and if not careful, recruiters and agencies could find themselves before an employment tribunal.

This article was first published on SIA Staffing Stream here.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.

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