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5 min read

Best Practices for Social Media Screening of Job Recruits

Hiring managers use social media screening to help find the best employee fit for company culture. While Human Resources (HR) gets information about a candidate’s professional experience from a resume and interview, social media screening fills in some of the gaps, checking an applicant’s presence online by searching platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or blogs.

How a company approaches social media screening and checking social media posts affects the screening results significantly. An excellent social media screening plan gives employers insights into a candidate’s integrity, personality, and values. Conversely, a poorly executed search increases the risk of a bad hire. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates a bad hire costs a company 30% of the annual salary for the position in question.

Cynthia Woods, Vice President of Marketing at AccuSourceHR, shares her twenty-year expertise so readers can understand where potential risk lurks and how to mitigate it in developing a social media screening program tailor-made for your organizational needs. In addition, she explains why social media screening's role has gained importance and provides best practice recommendations. 

Why Use Social Media Screening?

Woods notes that in the past, companies thought social media screening had relevance for a few sectors. For example, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries would vet hires to see if they held strong opinions about testing drugs on animals or had intense environmental activism beliefs. 

But, as Woods acknowledges, social media screening “has gained traction across all industries.” She says, “we find it creates great insights, even for staff in entry-level and non-managerial roles.”

Woods suggests three reasons HR should use best practices for social media screening:

  • To validate a candidate’s online presence
  • To assess a candidate’s risk to the company’s reputation
  • To ensure cultural fit within the organization

Validate a Candidate’s Online Presence

Social media screening identifies patterns in a candidate’s online presence. For example, a social media search can reveal a candidate’s alcohol or substance abuse, or their thought leadership in their field.

Any social media validating a candidate’s online presence must happen in the public domain. Woods emphasizes that a hiring manager should never ask a candidate for their social media username and password, as that person could be violating the law and opening up their organization and themselves to costly litigation.

Fortunately, for most hiring managers, plenty of public data about candidates exist. The recent use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides insight into this information, quickly identifying the difference between innocent comments and statements that indicate true risk behavior. Algorithms can calculate distinct patterns from a candidate’s engagement in social media posting to reduce individual bias.

Woods notes AI can pick out “keywords or images in context,” such as differentiating between ”I got high hopes going to the party” from “I got high at the party.” With AI, it’s possible to search hundreds of online posts to gain a comprehensive picture of how a candidate presents online.

Assess Candidate Risk

Cynthia Woods describes how people often have an “interview persona” as a job candidate. They are trying to put forth a professional view of themselves and may be masking other parts of their personality.

Because of this, an employer may miss problematic behaviors and end up with “a completely different human than they thought they hired,” says Woods.

As a result, the public service sector has increased the importance of social media screening in their hiring processes. For example, universities want to know if a potential hire could damage a college’s reputation by habitually dating students or engaging in other forms of unprofessional social behavior with coeds. Police bureaus want to know if a new employee has strong racial views, making them more likely to treat specific ethnicities differently.

Pick Outstanding Talent

Social media screening can also provide validation a solid candidate was chosen through the interview process. It can even indicate a history of thought leadership in their industry, identifying key strengths for career pathing. This type of positive feedback is beneficial to the organization above and beyond “revealing any social media screening information that could raise concern,” says Woods.

Enlist a Third Party in Social Media Screening

Cynthia Woods strongly encourages HR professionals to enlist a third-party vendor for social media screening efforts. Performing an online search yourself is time-consuming and can increase organizational risk versus mitigating it.

Third-party vendors who specialize in this work can help you:

  • Avoid legal violations by removing or masking protected class details
  • Save time by analyzing hundreds of posts quickly with the aid of technology
  • Get top results from your investment using both AI and expert human analysis

Avoid Legal Violations

Managers chance legal violations when conducting a social media screen themselves. A single wrongful termination or employment discrimination lawsuit can cost an organization thousands of dollars or more in litigation expenses, settlements and judgements. Social media posts frequently contain protected class information and it is difficult for a human resources professional or hiring manager to claim a detail pertaining to a candidate’s race, religion, familial status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability status did not impact their decision not to move forward in onboarding once they have seen it, regardless of whether they were impacted or not by it.

For example, in screening a candidate who has been extended a conditional offer of employment with a pipeline company, the HR manager conducts their own online social media search and uncovers the candidate has posted extreme viewpoints about environmental activism. These viewpoints pose a threat to the organization and may constitute reason to rescind the conditional offer. However, during the same search,  content is found indicating the candidate is a transgender person, and she is excited because her wife and her are welcoming their first child in a few months. She even posts she is looking forward to paternity leave to spend time with her new baby.

Once a recruiter or hiring manager views this type of sensitive information, it is nearly impossible to defend the notion it was not impactful in their decision-making. While the true reason they chose to rescind the employment offer is solely based upon organizational risk due to a history of activism not aligned with business objectives, the unintended viewing of protected class information brings individual bias into question.   

“How can the hiring manager justify that they did not hire the job candidate based on the protected class information viewed,” says Cynthia Woods. “They can’t because it was part of the totality of information they saw.”

Save Time

Many HR professionals are already working beyond capacity. Also, consider over 4 billion people post on social media sites. “Hiring managers truly do not have the bandwidth to execute a social media screening program consistently for every candidate to ensure equal treatment,” says Woods.

Social media screening requires specific training and a high level of expertise in both social media posting and societal behavior. A standard Google search does not begin to capture all publicly available social media content associated with a candidate. Key risk identifiers may be missed or too much focus can easily be placed on a single post without considering it in context of the totality of the candidate’s online behavior. 

Get Good Results from AI

Interpreting social media data reviewed by AI without expert human analysis can lead to unfavorable results and negative consequences. As the White House notes, unchecked social media data collection, including through AI, has biased or led to ineffective hiring decisions. All social media data collected using AI should be subject to additional review for compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing use in employment decision-making.

Woods explains compliance savvy consumer reporting agencies vet AI supported searches of social media using “human eyes.” For example, at AccuSourceHR, “a team of researchers trained in social anthropology reviews AI-generated data to ensure context. A second review by a seasoned Quality Assurance staff member ensures all data reported is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws and regulations, based upon applicable jurisdiction, governing background checks obtained for employment purposes.”


“Social media screening is only going to increase as a risk mitigation tool,” says Cynthia Woods. “As we head towards a recessionary economy, employers will want to get the best candidates from a wider pool of applicants and will also be focused on reducing the risk of unnecessary operational and legal costs associated with bad hires.”

Woods also sees social media screening expanding to other arenas, like volunteer roles. For example, in non-profit organizations where volunteers have unsupervised contact with children and teens, social media screening can be an effective tool to help ensure volunteer candidates do not have a history of posting or liking content depicting behaviors that could pose significant risk to vulnerable persons left in their charge.

As the role of social media screening expands, employers will want to ensure they understand its benefits and inherent risks if not utilized appropriately. Choosing an excellent third-party partner like AccuSourceHR with social media screening expertise can save both an organization and its recruiting team time and money, while promoting safer, healthier environments for their staff and the public they serve. 


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