Should a Social Media Profile Affect your Hiring Decision?

Taking a candidate’s social media profile into consideration when making a hire is always risky. Though social media itself is pervasive it is still relatively new, and many businesses lack clear guidelines as to how to utilize it safely and effectively during the vetting process. Information found online and especially through social media can help you determine whether a candidate is a good cultural fit, or reveal some creative skill they may not have included on their resume. However, it could also backfire if a candidate suspects illegal discrimination based on something you found in a social profile. Even though the information is publicly available, social media profile searches should be handled delicately when they’re being used to determine who you’re hiring. Here are some tips to get the most out of your research.

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1. Create a Formal Process

Lay out company-wide guidelines. Creating a systematic process regarding how to utilize social media is crucial to both protecting your company and getting the most of your search. First and foremost, determine at what point in the process the info should be examined. It’s a good idea to wait until after you’ve already met the candidates before sleuthing – that way, no one can say you turned them down for an interview based on an illegal bias against something discovered on their profile.

Make sure you know why you’re looking. Is it to ensure a company culture fit? To guard against unsavory behavior? All of the above? Make a standard checklist or rating system so you can avoid any judgment calls stemming from personal bias.

2. Be Transparent

Include it on the job application. In the same way you’d ask a candidate for previous employment information, include a question that asks for links to the candidate’s profiles. This way, it won’t be a surprise to a candidate if you pass on their application due to inappropriate content.

A good way to feel okay about looking up the social media profiles of candidates is to ask them for their account names on the application. That way, all candidates know that you will be researching them online and they will have a little time to “clean up” their presence, if needed. It will also help you to take the content seriously without feeling “sneaky.”

Explain why their social presence matters. Explain to the candidate what it is you’re looking for on their social profiles and why it’s relevant to the company and the job. Perhaps you run a public relations firm and need employees that understand the impact their “personal” accounts have on the company brand.

3. Search Smart

Prioritize career-oriented social sites like LinkedIn. Some might say that sites like LinkedIn are the only sites that potential employers should care about when reviewing a candidate. It’s definitely a good idea to prioritize these sites since they carry the most pertinent information, such as the candidate’s previous employment, career objective, recommendations, and connections you might have in common. Red flags include a career objective remarkably different from the way the candidate is positioning themselves to you or positions listed on their resume that are noticeably missing on the their LinkedIn profile.

Check popular social sites like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the candidate’s full name. Using any other information you may have procured during the interview process, such as social security number, address, or phone number, would be considered by most to be a violation of the candidate’s privacy, and you may not even find updated or accurate profiles.

Look for your candidate on industry-specific sites. For example, if you’re in the entertainment industry, be sure to run a search on imdb.com, where candidates with experience should have a profile.

4. Consider the context

The extent to which a social media profile affects your hiring decision should depend on the position, your company, and the experience and age of the candidate. If your candidate is brand new to the workforce, seeking an entry level position, you shouldn’t be too surprised to find that their social profiles lack a little polish. If the flaws have fixes that are teachable, you could consider the social presence as just a piece of the pie and consider incorporating some professional improvements into your mentoring strategy.

Obviously, candidates for roles in the public eye or those that deal directly with social media should be savvy enough to have engaging social media profiles. If a candidate is applying for a public relations or social media position and does not have a personal account, ask them why. They could have spent most of their time building the accounts of their brands, which you can review for examples of their work.

But profiles that are missing or lack polish are different from profiles that are offensive or indicate a cultural misfit. If you notice a pattern in a candidate’s social presence that indicates something “off,” take it seriously. One or two off-color remarks might be human, but a consistent nature of aggression is a red flag, especially in an age when most candidates should be aware that potential employers might Google them.

Finding a photo of your candidate in a bikini or in a silly karaoke video might strike you as inappropriate on their end, but remember that content  wasn’t created with a job interview in mind. Photos of someone’s vacation or footage from a friend’s birthday party can easily end up in a Google search through no fault of the candidate’s. As long as you don’t see criminal behavior or something truly lewd, don’t sweat it too much. It’s no crime to have a life outside of a career.

5. When in doubt, ask the candidate directly

If you’re ever unsure about a profile you’ve found, consider bringing it up to the candidate directly to give them the opportunity to clear up the confusion.

Perhaps you just want to make sure they’re a good cultural fit. Those who balk at the question probably weren’t the best fit for the role, after all.

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