Social media: to screen or not to screen?

With social media at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to ‘get to know’ a person without actually meeting them. And while more recruiters see it as a useful way to find and connect with candidates, applying social media as a screening tool is more complex.

So, is it ok for recruiters to use candidate social media profiles as part of the screening process?

When it’s wrong

The risk of using social media to screen candidates is that employers can open themselves up to claims of liability and discrimination. While there’s little legal precedent around this issue now, this grey area of screening and recruitment could become clearer as the use of social media becomes more widespread.

Some recruiters actively avoid the practice. Rachel Handasyde, Director at Copper Road, says the consultancy has a policy not to use social media for screening. “It’s not an accurate representation of how well a candidate can do their 9-to-5 job,” she says.  “Candidates should be judged on their ability to do the role and overall cultural fit not what they get up to outside of work hours, their age, sexual orientation, overall appearance and so on.”

Instead the agency focuses on educating candidates about how their social media use could affect some employers’ perceptions of them, and ultimately their future career opportunities, Handasyde says.

Putting it to good use

The general trend is for recruiters to avoid using social media to rule out prospective candidates. But it’s still common for them to explore social media accounts as part of the broader recruitment process, especially now that cultural fit is so important to a lot of companies. 

Ben Brown, Director at Method Recruitment, says the agency doesn’t use social media to reject anyone, but instead often uses it to gain insight into how a candidate’s interests complement their resume. “It’s used as a tool to help inform us of things like hobbies, passions and lifestyle,” he says.

Proceeding with caution

Handasyde and Brown agree illegal activity and anti-social behaviour are major red flags. Method Recruitment prioritises how a candidates’ values align with theirs, so if their social media content breaches the agency’s values they would treat this information with caution, Brown says.

For Handasyde, another big warning bell comes with inconsistencies on a candidates’ resume and online profiles. “Particularly when it comes to their work history and the timelines on their resume,” she says. While this isn’t used to dismiss a candidate, she uses it as a springboard to discuss authenticity and the importance of accurate representation on social media.

What do candidates think?

Job seekers actively use social media to research prospective employers. Because of this, organisations are investing more time and resources into presenting a strong online brand. Similarly, job seekers are mindful of how they brand themselves when it comes to their online presence and generally use it as an opportunity to showcase their skills, experience and achievements, says Handasyde

While job seekers are generally savvy about how they use social media, some aren’t informed about its impact, Handasyde says. “Unfortunately, we do see instances where candidates are unaware of the power of their social media presence and how that can be of detriment to their career,” she says.

To minimise any potential impact, Copper Road and Method Group help to educate their candidates on privacy and security and using social media as a help, not a hindrance in their job search.