The pros and cons of using social media for candidate screening

With all the information that’s “out there” on your potential new hire, it’s tempting to do a little snooping. After all, a new hire is a risk. Taking steps to mitigate that risk just makes good sense, right?

Well, sure.


Online searches are inexpensive, easy, anonymous, and when not conducted by a “consumer reporting agency” not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

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And let’s face it. Every candidate isn’t as he appears.


But poking around social media to investigate job candidates is not without risk, either. Consider that …

  • It’s perceived as sneaky. A 2013 study claimed that nearly half of all employers used social media as a recruiting tool, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean applicants like it. Yes, the internet is public, but folks don’t want to feel that a shot at a decent job requires eschewing participation in social media or adopting a wholly fake or “neutral” online persona that doesn’t represent their genuine beliefs about the world. That’s no fun.
  • People change and grow. A comment posted to an article last year may or may not reflect the commenter’s attitude this year.
  • You might learn things you really don’t want to know. I’m talking age, religious affiliation, marital status, medical history, caregiving status, etc. Your decision to not interview or hire someone may have nothing to do with her six school-aged children, but one thing is for certain—if you had no way of knowing this fact, no one could argue with any validity that your decision-making process was influenced by it. And claims can be given real weight if online searches are conducted inconsistently.

In “Facebook Snooping on Job Candidates May Backfire for Employers,” Will Stoughton, a doctoral student in industrial psychology and lead author on a study about how job candidates perceive employers who snoop, is quoted as saying, “The practice may have serious repercussions for the hiring organization’s reputation and make applicants more inclined to resort to litigation.” That’s because job seekers view online searches as an invasion of privacy.

In one study of 208 adults, researchers found that even when participants received a (hypothetical) job offer, they still had a negative opinion of employers who viewed the seekers’ social media profiles.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to not view online profiles is that whatever the employer finds may not be predictive of an individual’s job performance.

More food for thought

If you view online profiles to screen candidates, stay cognizant of the risks and considering developing a policy for consistency.

Also, keep in mind that an online search is not a substitute for asking thorough, relevant questions; speaking with past employers and business associates; and carefully comparing experience and education against job requirements.

Take a look at what employers thing about social media in this fun infographic.



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