Social Media in the Background Screens?

Part 1 of a 2-part series on social media’s increasing impact on background screening

Whatever an individual posts online in a social media forum should be considered completely off-limits to an employer who is considering a candidate for a job opening, right?

WRONG!  News flash… they’re not 100% off-limits.  In reality, if used in compliance with the Federal Credit Reporting Act and basic human resources-related legislation, they can be (and increasingly are) used by employers in their hiring practices.

Image: Sujin Jetkasettakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as much as the next person and actively use the social media sites ourselves.  Use of social media sites in our society continues to grow exponentially.  They are valuable tools for connecting with others, as well as for learning more about them.

This first part of our two-part series is written for the perspective of our potential clients wishing to use social media in their background screening processes.

Use of Social Networks in the Hiring Process

EmployeeScreenIQ reported in their survey, “Trends in Employment Background Screening – 2011 Results” that social networking sites are extremely valuable tools that employers are actively using to source potential candidates for career opportunities.  Consider what those surveys said about using social networking sites to source candidates:

  • LinkedIn:  18% surveyed use “all the time” to source and 39% use “sometimes”
  • Google/Internet:  14% use “all the time” and 34% use “sometimes”
  • Facebook: 9% use “all the time” and 30% use “sometimes”
  • Twitter: 5% use “all the time” and 22% use “sometimes”

Actual inclusion of social networking data in background screens is somewhat less prevalent, but still is actively occurring.

  • LinkedIn:  10% surveyed include “all the time” in screens and 25% use “sometimes”
  • Google/Internet:  9% include “all the time” and 28% include “sometimes”
  • Facebook: 8% include “all the time” and 22% include “sometimes”
  • Twitter: 5% include”all the time” and 14% include “sometimes”

EmployeeScreenIQ goes on to say in their findings contrast slightly with results shared in CareerBuilder’s 2009 study that reported 45% of respondents included social networking results in  their screening processes.  The increased activity of many organizations developing social networking policies potentially could have had some impact on diminishing their use in the past few years.  However, it is clear this will be a hot topic for more and more organizations as the popularity of these networks spread.

How Can I Legitimately Use Social Media Data in My Background Screening Processes?

Duane Morris of Duane Morris Institute recently provided some great guidance in an article published in the April 2011 edition of Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) HR Magazine, titled “Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano: From hiring to harassment, social media can explode on employers.”  Here are some general guidelines to effectively use social media in order to maximize the business benefits and minimize the risks:

  1. Do not allow managers or supervisors engaged in the hiring process to conduct social media background checks on their own.  HR professionals in the organization should conduct any of these types of checks in similar fashion to other background checks that are conducted.
  2. These types of checks should only be done after a candidate has been interviewed and the individual has been determined to be a viable candidate.  This will help minimize the chances of obtaining equal employment opportunity-related information too early in the hiring process.
  3. If you conduct them for one, conduct them for all.  All candidates should be subject to the same type of checks at the same point in the hiring process.
  4. Document anything that was discovered and relied upon in such a check if rejecting a candidate based on that information learned.

So in conclusion, employers are increasingly becoming aware of candidates’ online presence and determining how to use that information to effectively choose the most viable individual for employment opportunities.

Job seekers out there, what does that mean for you?  Part 2 of this topic series will be posted soon.  There we’ll talk about some of the things organizations are looking for in these types of social media background checks and give some suggestions on how you can safeguard your online reputation.  Stay tuned!