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How to Run a Social Media Background Check

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March 14, 2021Candidates Executive Search Business Insights

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When it comes to running background checks during the hiring process, we all know the immediate red flags that a potential employee could have, like illegal activity in a criminal background check, drug use, or a criminal record. However, other types of background checks can give you even more information on job applicants.

Social media background checks are a way to learn more about the candidates you are making hiring decisions about. Many businesses are hesitant to conduct a social media screening, as it can seem like an invasion of personal privacy. Without them, however, you could risk hiring a candidate that isn’t the right fit for the job.

A social media background check helps you weed out job candidates that aren’t going to be a good fit for your company culture for reasons beyond a typical background screening. Your candidate’s social media profiles can go a long way toward helping hiring managers determine who will be the best hire for your company.


What is a social media background check?

A social media background check is when an employee examines a candidate’s online activity and social media accounts. They look through social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and closely examine tweets and posts to look for potential behavior that indicates they are not a good fit for the company.

Potential social media presence factors to look out for could include hate speech, explicit content, bad language, drug use, illegal activity, a negative online presence, or badmouthing of their current company. A social media check is usually done near the end of the hiring process and will reveal information that isn’t found in a traditional employment screening.


Pros and cons of running social media background checks

A social networking screening allows employers to learn important information about their candidates that they wouldn’t find in any other background check method. However, before you decide if a social media screening is something you want to move forward with, you should consider some of the pros and cons of social media checks.


pros cons social media bg check

Pros of social media background checks

A social media check can help you find great employees and get these other benefits:

  • Vet a candidate as a positive fit for your unique company culture.
  • Identify any warning signs that a candidate has erratic or concerning behavior.
  • Protect your company's image from being tarnished by someone who traces back to your brand.
  • Learn more about candidates and what their personal interests and personalities are like.

Cons of social media background checks

There are a few negative impacts of a social media check that you should consider before giving your team the green light to search through social media profiles:

  • False information from candidates might make finding their actual accounts hard to do.
  • Firm state laws, federal laws, and privacy laws need to be adhered to in order to meet equal employment opportunity (EEOC) requirements.
  • Many candidates aren’t aware that companies check social media during the vetting process. As a result, some candidates may feel negatively toward your brand and feel you are overreaching.
  • Wasting time, since most people have accounts on multiple sites, making a social media check time-consuming.


Why conduct a social media background check?

While interviews and traditional hiring methods help you learn about your candidates' background and work history, you are speaking to the very formal side of your candidates. They know how to put their best foot forward during the interview and aren't likely to reveal too much about their interests and true personality. A social media background check can help to reveal some of that information and help you open up new avenues of consideration for whether or not you hire that person.

1. To ensure the candidate is a great culture fit

Your company culture is the atmosphere you create around your values and priorities. Finding the perfect candidate is more than finding someone with the right qualifications and skills. You also need to make sure they fit your company culture.

Does the candidate agree with or speak out against the values you hold? How do they interact with others on social media? And what attitudes do they bring to their social media accounts? Answering these questions can give clues about how they might behave in your organizational setting.

However, be careful not to hold too much against candidates during your assessment: You can’t hold every post against a candidate or expect them to align their values to your personal beliefs perfectly. Use social media to inform your decision, but don’t let it become the biggest deciding factor.

2. To get perspective on the candidate’s personal life

While you may ask a question or two during the interview about a candidate’s interests or favorite things, it likely isn’t a full conversation about who they are, as their work history and knowledge is more important to discuss during the hiring process. By completing a social media background check, you can learn more about who your candidates really are.

social media profile phone

Even if you don’t use the information to make a hiring decision, you can gather information that helps you create a well-rounded picture of the people in your hiring process. This helps you learn more about them and understand their motivational factors and goals.

3. To discover hidden talents or skills that can help your company

A background check can tell you many things about your candidates' skills. While their work skills are likely listed in their resume, you can use a social media background check to look for more skills that might be helpful to your organization.

For example, you may come across a well-written blog article that tells you the candidate is a gifted writer and communicator, or you may come across a YouTube channel where they explain complex topics in easy-to-understand ways. You may be searching for a demonstration of skills that your company needs before making a decision on a candidate. Without the background check, you likely wouldn’t fully understand how the candidate puts their skills to use.


Best practices for social media background checks

Successful social media background checks depend on having a strategic plan in place. When you approach social media checks strategically, you know what you want to look for, where you can go, and who is responsible for the check. Here are a few best practices to remember as you progress with your checks.

Let candidates know beforehand

Federal law clearly states that employers need to let their candidates know that they are doing a background check on them. While a social media check doesn’t fall under those terms exactly, you should still include a clear forewarning — just to be safe and ethical.

Wait until the end of the hiring process to conduct the check

To avoid any negligence or unfairness, make sure you check social media at the end of the process. Never look at a social media account before you look at a resume. Begin by eliminating candidates in traditional ways through resumes, interviews, and criminal background checks before turning to social media.

Be consistent: Check everyone or no one

It’s also important to be consistent when doing social media checks. If you check one candidate, you need to check all of them. To make sure you are covered with your social media background checks, make them a part of your official policy. For example, you can mention in your policy that you look at social media for all high-level jobs. This eliminates unconscious bias and makes your entire process more equitable.

Get started by simply Googling the candidate

social media profile computerWhile you would be right to assume that a social media background check largely relies on looking at individual social media profiles, there is a much simpler way to begin your search. You can begin with a simple Google search with the candidate’s legal name. From there, you can find social media links and any news stories or other publications about the candidate. Just be sure that what you find is about your candidate in particular, not someone else with the same name.

Designate the right person to perform the check

Picking who does a background check is an important factor to consider in your process. The hiring manager or the person who has already spoken to the candidates isn’t the best option, as they will already have some bias toward the candidates that could influence their check. Excluding the hiring manager is a great way to avoid that bias and be fair in your social media checks.

Only look at public social media pages

There is a difference between public and private pages, so you need to make sure you only look at public pages. If someone’s account requires a password, follow-back, or is otherwise locked, don’t ask to be let in. Not only is this illegal in several states, but you only should be looking at social media activity that is available to the public.


Some information you find on social media can’t impact your hiring decision

While there are things that can influence your hiring decision, there are also things that you cannot legally take into consideration. Some of these are federally mandated, like race and age, and others are state laws, like sexual orientation. You need to make sure you are familiar with the state laws and federal laws around hiring practices before you conduct your social media checks. Some things that you definitely should want to avoid to remain ethical include:

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Pregnancy or children status
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Race

Leave your background checks to the pros

Conducting a social media background check can be a tricky and complicated business. You need to have a clear understanding of the hiring laws and discrimination laws in your state. Otherwise, you could be in danger of facing legal action.

Hiring a company that knows how to do these types of background checks is a great way to diminish the chances of facing legal repercussions and of putting a time-consuming drain on your team. That’s why you should let the pros at Hunt Club do it for you. Contact us and let us take you to the next level in your hiring processes today.

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Kristin Bachman avatarKristin Bachman