You thought the applicant knocked it out of the park with his resume and answers to your interview questions. Do you make the offer?
Not so fast. Have you fully checked out the real person behind the resume and interview answers? In addition to reference checks, 90% of employers now use social media to evaluate job candidates. According to Harvard Business Review, 54% of employers reject applicants after finding negative information on social media.
If you don’t believe you need to check social media, remember the candidate that appeared to be a shoo-in for a Board of Regents appointment until her Twitter post against Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- “You posturing with a parade of rape victims is doing nothing relevant. Get your sh-t together” -- torpedoed her candidacy.
How job candidates come across on public social sites offers employers an easily accessible, no-cost opportunity to look behind the curtain applicants hide behind when they offer carefully curated portraits of themselves in the hiring process. Social media posts reveal whether your candidate can present herself professionally; discrepancies with her resume or application; whether she’s viciously bad-mouthed past employers; and even her involvement in illegal activities.
According to Bryce Froberg of The Background Check Co., “Doing a social media search is a great way to better evaluate how a prospective hire might fit in with your company’s culture. We provide our client employers convincing facts showing the employees they almost hired made racially insensitive comments, posted disparaging comments about coworkers and/or supervisors, or dealt poorly with adverse developments.”
Former private investigator Sean Eichrodt echoes this cultural-fit benefit, noting that the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency in partnership with the FBI searched social media after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to reinvestigate government employees that might have ties with extremist groups.
Do you dread the time searching social media might take? Remember, avoiding a bad hire is a hundred times easier than ridding your company of a problem employee. Here are some of the posts Froberg offers as representative of what his team has uncovered for his clients through a social media search. “My work sucks. The people I work with are stupid idiots.” “A------s never even called me back. Company sucked anyway.” “My boss is a jew and I hate jews.” “Why does my b---- boss keep running her mouth about crap she knows nothing about.”
Despite the benefits social media searches provide, vetting job candidates on social media opens Pandora’s box. You learn information that federal and state laws don’t allow you to consider, such as the applicant’s race, ethnicity, family or pregnancy status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age, medical conditions and illegal drug use. Further, if your applicant has a common name, you may find posts authored by someone other than your candidate, leading you to assess the wrong individual.
You can manage these risks by making social media vetting part of the reference and background check process and by focusing on job-related characteristics, such as verification of work history, education and credentials, and other criteria important to the position and ignoring anything related to protected categories. If a post showing questionable judgment leads you to make a no-hire decision, make a screen shot of the post along with the URL.
Alternatively, you can turn the process over to a background screening firm. Reputable search companies also ensure you’ll view only the information you’re legally permitted to see. They’ll also follow protocols to ensure they report to you only information about the applicant and not someone else who has the same name.
Finally, when you select a screening firm, make sure they adhere to Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements. This includes obtaining the applicant’s written consent and providing specific communications to the candidate and an opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the information uncovered such the search result in a no-hire decision.
The bottom line: If you don’t yet incorporate social media searches into your vetting process, you open your organization up to a potentially nasty surprise.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is president of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her here.