When social media exploded onto the scene a few years ago, it was as if hiring managers had discovered a gold mine. Suddenly, practically anything and everything they wanted to know about a job applicant was just a few keystrokes away. But as the old saying goes, “Careful what you wish for.” Now, the very thing that drove employers to Facebook and Twitter in the first place is giving them pause. And the reason is simple – the law.
The last thing you want to do when choosing one candidate over another is give the impression that your decision was biased – particularly that it was based on certain protected characteristics like age, race, religion and medical history. Generally, there are two ways to avoid any legal pitfalls. One is to hire a social media screening company to do the work for you. The other is to develop a thorough screening plan of your own.
We’ll assume for the purpose of this article that you’ve chosen to conduct your own screenings. For a comprehensive plan to be successful, everyone in your company must be familiar with it, and they must be on board with it. This way, Bill in accounting will know he isn’t allowed to tell your hiring manager over lunch that he’s discovered a “juicy, little tidbit” about a person who’s on your short list. For additional safety, make your media screening plan part of an overall, written hiring policy.
Decide what information you will look for on social media sites, and then conduct the same type of research on every candidate you screen. Social media background checks for the purpose of hiring are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which guarantees job candidates the accuracy, privacy and fairness of the information you collect.
Consider telling your potential hires that you will be looking at their accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Then, if they fail to scrub any objectionable material from their sites, you may gain some valuable insight into their judgment skills. But look only at publicly available information. And never ask candidates for log-in information to look at the messages and photos they choose to keep private.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is to hold off on conducting your social media screening until you’ve narrowed your field of candidates the traditional way – by looking at resumes and cover letters, and perhaps through the first round of interviews. You don’t want to be accused of passing on an individual because you discovered what religion he or she belongs to, or perhaps the person’s race.
Social media is an excellent research tool, especially for helping you decide if a candidate would be a good cultural fit at your firm. Use it incorrectly, however, and you could find yourself in a costly, legal quagmire.