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Screening Candidates on Social Media -- Is It Worth It?

Eagle's Virtual Recruiter service

Over the last 10 years, social media has changed the way we do many things in both our personal and professional lives.  One trend that quickly gained traction in the business world was the screening of the social media profiles of job applicants.  In fact, although the results of February’s Virtual Recruiter Quick Poll don’t reflect it, this study from CareerBuilder suggests that almost 40% of companies are now stalking their applicants online before making a hiring decision.

A recent Workopolis article explained how employers engage candidates on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to look for red flags, including both inappropriate content (ex. illegal drug use, drunkenness, profanity) and simple things like bad grammar.  Employers also can make assumptions about an applicant’s technical abilities based on whether or not they have a social media presence.  While these practices are a good way to understand a potential new employee’s personal life and behaviour, it may not always be an accurate screening mechanism and it can backfire.  Here are a few things to consider when screening your candidates’ social media profiles:


“Never judge a book by its cover” – an important message that applies across our lives, including when screening candidates.  Inappropriate Facebook posts, empty LinkedIn pages and Tweets filled with spelling errors don’t necessarily make a person unqualified for a position.  While it is helpful to get an alternate perspective about a person’s work style through information gathered from their social media profile, it’s important to remember that success in a current position and positive references should also factor in the hiring decision.  As long as a candidate’s social media activities don’t hurt the organization, what they do in their personal time should be considered irrelevant.  Another important consideration when looking through a person’s online history is timeline.  You run the risk of judging somebody based on old information or a lack of maturity.  They easily may have changed their ways by the time they applied to your job opening.

Privacy issues


Once something is posted to the World Wide Web privacy generally goes out the window, but some governments are stepping in, saying there are some privacy rights to consider.  According to an article written by go2, BC’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner has weighed in on the topic and suggests employers should review privacy laws to ensure they’re not over stepping boundaries.  If an applicant feels their information was collected or used improperly, they do have a right to file a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner and that can lead to headaches for your organization.

What does the candidate think?


A November 2013 study from North Carolina State University found that screening social media accounts can actually alienate potential employees and make it harder to attract top applicants.  According to the study, 66% of job applicants who learned employers had checked them out online felt their privacy had been invaded and were less impressed with the company.  On the other hand, a recent poll conducted by Workopolis suggests that 60% of Canadian job seekers actually consider this to be a normal part of the process and less than 25% would actually think less of their potential employer.

What do you think?  Is it acceptable to screen applicants by reviewing their social media profiles?  If so, how far should an organization go?  Should recruiters ask permission first?