Let’s assume that you have an opening at your firm for an open position.  You have screened the resumes submitted and narrowed the field of potential candidates to six.  You can easily Google each candidate and see what information is available on the internet about each, which might help you further narrow the field.   A study from CareerBuilder shows that 70 percent of employers now use social media to screen job candidates before hiring, up from 60 percent a year ago and 11 percent in 2006.  Should you?

One concern with using social media to screen potential candidates is potential discrimination. When you look at an applicant’s resume, you cannot identify race, disability or – depending upon their name – gender.  If you look at a candidate’s social media pages, you have access to information that you would not know unless the candidate came in for an interview.  You may also glean information about a candidate’s religion, marital status, and political affiliations, subjects that should never be discussed during the interview process.  If you make an adverse employment decision after viewing an applicant’s social media -even if you never considered that information in a biased manner – you may find your organization subject to a discrimination claim.

Another issue with using social media relates to consistency.  Some candidates may have lots of public information and others very little.  Thus, you may gather disparate information among candidates.  In addition, access to and use of social media varies among age groups and socioeconomic circumstances.  You may inadvertently discriminate against older candidates or those that have fewer means.

On the other hand, you may learn a lot of information about whether a potential candidate is a good fit with your company.  Are their social media posts well written and coherent?  How do they respond to criticism in online posts?  You may learn about their ambitions based upon whom they follow.  You may learn about the candidate’s creativity; there are some very creative posts on social media.  Does the candidate appear to be a cultural fit based upon their social media posts? 

If you are going to use social media to screen your next candidate, consider:

  • Having your Human Resources Department conduct the screen, rather than the potential supervisor for the position.  This will help ensure consistency.
  • Looking at social media AFTER you have conducted face-to-face interviews.  At this point, the candidate’s membership in a protected class will likely be known.
  • Consistency. Look at all candidates’’ social media, not just a selected few.
  • Documenting hiring decisions.  Print out social media content upon which you base any hiring decision and any reason why the candidate was not a good fit.  As you know, posts may be removed and if you have not printed out offending content, you may not be able to defend your choices later.

If you have any questions about use of social media or other risk management issues, call us at 864-327-5000.  We would be glad to help you.