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How to Run a Social Media Background Check

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March 14, 2021

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Have you ever wondered if you should do social media background checks on your prospective hires? 

Maybe you’re ambivalent about doing them because you feel it’s a gross intrusion into your candidates’ private lives. However, if you choose not to do them because of concerns like these, your company could be saddled with the costs of a bad hire.

It might reassure you to know that these days, over 90% of all companies do social media background checks. 

One fantastic way social media background searches can help your company is by weeding out candidates with chronic negative attitudes. For example, you might see on social media that someone is continually blaming everyone for things that are going wrong in their lives. Or, every single one of their social media posts is oozing with negativity.

If they’re doing that kind of thing on Facebook, chances are they’ll do the same in your office.

If what you see on social media causes you not to hire them, you’ll eliminate someone who will only create a toxic atmosphere at your company. This will save you thousands of dollars and a whole lot of aggravation.

In this article, you’ll discover what a social media background check is. You’ll also find out why you should do one, the kinds of information you can uncover, and how you can minimize the legal risks.

What is a social media background check?

A social media background check is when an employer reviews a candidate’s social media profiles to see whether he’d be a good hire. It's usually done near the end of the hiring process, and can reveal information that you can't find in traditional screenings.

Risks and benefits

While there are certainly benefits to incorporating social media background screenings in your organization’s background check process, there are also risks.

Many HR professionals are wary of learning about applicants on social media because of these potential risks. That’s why you should only do them after you’ve finished with the interview and the rest of the background checks. You don’t want to be sued by somebody who didn’t get the job because you used the information you uncovered on social media in the wrong way.

This could happen if you look on social media before you do other parts of the hiring process. The risk comes from the information you collect about your candidate.

There are things known as “protected characteristics" that cannot factor into the hiring decision. These include such things as nationality, medical history, religion, race, and age.

If you happen to do a social media background check that collects any of this information and you end up using it to make your hiring decision, you put yourself in serious legal jeopardy.

Why conduct a social media background check?

Social media background checks can give you details about an applicant that might be difficult to uncover through conventional interviews. While resumes and interviews can give you a good feel for a candidate as a worker, social media might help open up new avenues of consideration for whether or not to hire that person.

Culture fit

Finding the perfect candidate isn’t only about finding someone with the right qualifications and skills. You also need to ensure the person is an excellent cultural fit. An individual's social media is a perfect place to find that out.

Consider your company's values and priorities, and look through the candidate's social media posts. Do they openly speak out against the values you hold? How do they interact with others on social media? These can give you clues as to how they might behave in your organizational setting.

However, be careful in your social media assessment. Don't hold every post against the candidate, or read too much into their work behavior from the way they behave online. It can also be problematic to reject a candidate because their politics differ from yours or the company's.

Use their social media presence to inform your decision, without letting it become the most important thing. 

Violent or sexist rhetoric

If you see a potential candidate creating or sharing posts that condone violence or sexism, factor what you see into your hiring decision.

You don’t want these kinds of attitudes having a demoralizing effect on your workplace culture.

Positive stuff

Besides negative stuff, you’ll hopefully see lots of positive things that’ll weigh in a candidate’s favor when it’s time to make your hiring decision.

For example, you could discover that your prospective hire has a good heart because she volunteers for several charities. Their interactions with others may evince the kind of personality that works best in your office environment; if the'yre friendly online, they might be a boon to the workplace!

Make sure you consider everything when you make your decision—in other words, don’t just use the bad stuff.


Social media background checks can tell you many things about a candidate’s skills.

You might come across a well-written blog article on the candidate’s LinkedIn profile that shows you he’s a gifted communicator. Or maybe an applicant has a YouTube channel where she does explainer videos that articulate complex subjects in easy-to-understand ways.

These might be skills that you desperately need at your company. Without your social media background search, you would never have known about them.

How to do social media checks

Start with Google

Conventional wisdom used to dictate that you could only look at an individual’s professional social media profiles, such as LinkedIn.

However, that's not true anymore. Whether it's personal or professional, it doesn't matter because it's out there for everyone to see.

We recommend you start your social media background check on a search engine like Google. Enter the candidate's name in the search box and see what pops up. If you see links to social media profiles, go to each and see what you can find.

One thing to keep in mind is that other people might share the same name as your applicant, so be careful!

Be consistent

When conducting social media background checks, consistency is important.

Try not to be selective in who you perform checks on; either check everyone or check no one.

To cover yourself, make social media background checks part of your official policy. For example, your policy could say that you look at all social media when hiring for your top-level jobs.

This will not only eliminate unconscious bias from your hiring decision—but it will also make your hiring process more equitable.

Wait until the end of the hiring process

The best way not to get sued is by not doing social media background checks until it’s time to make a final hiring decision.

This means you should never look at an applicant’s social media pages before going over resumes. If somebody doesn’t have the three years of experience you’re looking for or doesn’t have the right degree, there’s no point in looking at their social media profile.

Hold off on checking their social media until you finish interviewing all your potential candidates. That way, nobody can say the reason they weren't hired was that you glimpsed something in their social media profile you didn’t like.

Exclude the hiring manager

The individual who'll supervise the candidate isn't the ideal person to do a social media background check because they’re not trained in what can be considered and what can’t.

You want to avoid allowing unconscious bias to creep into your hiring decisions. Excluding the hiring manager from doing social media checks is an excellent way to do that.

Scrutinize public pages only

Only look at public social media pages.

This means asking a candidate for her social media password is a huge no-no.

It’s not only illegal in over 20 states, but it will also make your applicant not want to trust you.

Offer guidelines

If you’ve decided to hire an outside firm to do your background checks, tell them what kind of information you want them to look for.

This way, they’ll know what information to exclude from the search.

For example, they might know better than to look for medical or personal information. However, to be on the safe side, it's best to communicate you don't want the agency searching for these kinds of details.

Let employees know

Federal law clearly states that employers must let job seekers know if they plan to do a background check on them.

However, there’s not a whole lot of clarity on whether this includes telling them you’re going to do a social media background check.

In the interest of being ethical, you may want to let them know that this will be part of the information you'll be looking at.

Leave your background checks to the pros

Conducting social media background checks is a tricky business.

To properly do one, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the law as it applies to your state.

Otherwise, you could be in danger of being sued. Hiring a company well-versed in doing these types of background checks will significantly diminish the chances you’ll face legal repercussions.

That’s why you should let the pros at Hunt Club do it for you.

Call us today!

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