The Use of Social Media Background Checks Rises among Employers

If you think that your Facebook and Twitter profiles won’t be looked at when you’re applying for a job, think again. The vast majority of employers are now searching through candidates’ social media accounts as part of the hiring process, new research finds.

A study from CareerBuilder revealed that 70 percent of employers now use social media to screen job candidates before hiring them, up from 60 percent a year ago. This also includes searches on Google, Yahoo and Bing,

But don’t let that stop you from posting online…and don’t delete your accounts altogether. That strategy could backfire! One-quarter of hiring managers expect candidates to have some sort of online presence, and nearly 60 percent are less likely to call someone in for interview if they can’t find them online.

“This shows the importance of cultivating a positive online persona,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, said in a statement. “Job seekers should make their professional profiles visible online and ensure any information that could negatively impact their job search is made private or removed.”

Despite what you might think, most employers aren’t scouring the internet looking for reasons to not hire candidates. Most employers are actually trying to find reasons to hire someone.

The study found that 61 percent of employers conduct social screenings to look for information that supports a candidate’s qualifications for the job, 50 percent want to make sure the candidate has a professional online persona, and 37 percent want to see what other people are posting about the candidate. Just 24 percent of those surveyed check social media to search for reasons not to hire someone.

So what raises a red flag for employers?

The leading types of posts and behavior that left employers with a bad impression include:

  • Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information.
  • Candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs.
  • Candidate had discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion.
  • Candidate bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employees.
  • Candidate lied about qualifications.
  • Candidate had poor communication skills.
  • Candidate was linked to criminal behavior.
  • Candidate shared confidential information from previous employers.
  • Candidate’s screen name was unprofessional.
  • Candidate lied about an absence.
  • Candidate posted too frequently.

Professionals shouldn’t ease up on ensuring their online presence is a positive once they land a job. The study found that 51 percent of employers use social networking sites to research current employees. Of those, 34 percent have found content that caused them to discipline, or even fire, an employee.

The need to hide or remove any inappropriate content should be obvious, but having a clean and private profile doesn’t demonstrate who you are, and may even suggest you have something to hide, said Laura Betourne, a social media specialist at Uproar PR.

“Employers with a strong company culture are looking at more than just your job experience,” Betourne told Business News Daily. “Use your personal accounts to convey your personality, and share your hobbies and favorite pastimes.”

Although this research has become a popular trend, social media vetting is a contentious issue in the HR community. Some argue that the practice is unethical and violates candidates’ right to privacy. HR execs who turn a blind eye to social media have argued that the views and opinions people express in their free time have no bearing on their ability to get the job done. Still, HR teams who turn to social media often feel the information and photos posted on these platforms is in the public domain, and it would be foolish not to use it.


Social Media Vetting: Pros and Cons

Pro: It can give greater insight into an applicant’s abilities
A resume is a very small window into a potential employee’s work experience and qualifications. Sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter allow candidates a dynamic platform for exhibiting their work. Many journalists, photographers, and graphic designers share links to their clips on Facebook and Twitter, or specific portfolio sites like Behance and Contently.

Con: It could reveal protected information
Why do 80 percent of those surveyed avoid using social media to vet employees? A majority cite legal risk and the possibility of stumbling upon information that is usually protected including age, race and gender. Even when this information is obtained accidentally, if it has an impact on the ultimate hiring decision a candidate could argue discrimination.

Pro: It can reveal ugly incidents
Despite social media’s vast reach and public nature, candidates remain much more likely to be forthright in a tweet than they are in a job application or in-person interview. Social media sites are a good place to scan for potentially inappropriate behavior, such as overt acts of racism, sexism or other discriminatory behaviors. Hate speech can be a red flag for the HR team that a candidate might not fit into the organizational culture.

Con: It isn’t always reliable
In a world where Twitter accounts for brands like Burger King, Jeep and Fox News can get hacked, HR professionals can never be 100 percent certain that comments and content posted to a candidate’s page or wall is authentic. There’s always a potential for an HR professional to find an impostor account and mistake it for a valid one and the possibility of misconstruing pictures, messages or other information posted when this content is posted by someone with a similar name.

So who conducts Social Media Background Checks?

Social media vetting is time-consuming for hiring managers to do themselves. The American Bar Association recommends hiring a third-party vendor to conduct the social media searches. An added bonus: “Most helpful, a third party’s web-crawler system can typically review more webpages than an individual hiring manager tapping away at individual websites like Facebook and Twitter,” the ABA states.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to note that social media background checks make it easy for employers to find out information that can be held against you when you’re applying for jobs. Be cautious of what you post on social media, blogs, and other internet sites. The chances of someone finding information that could be damaging to your career are high. Your best bet is to be careful about what you post and to presume that what you post is public, despite any privacy settings you may have.



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