Because everyone should dig their job

First Time Hirers: Should You Do Social Media Background Checks?

By Michael Klazema

Perhaps you are in the process of growing a new business, or maybe you got promoted into a role where you are responsible for interviewing and hiring a few new team members at your job. Either way, you will have to learn the ropes of the hiring process, and suffice to say that it’s a fairly complicated gauntlet to run. In fact, the hiring process may seem so complicated at first that it could become overwhelming. Don’t worry: all of the interviewing, reviewing applications and resumes, and running background checks will get easier as you go.

In all likelihood, you’ll have the most trouble getting used to background checks. Which background checks do you run? What do you look for? Which third-party companies do you use to run the checks? There are a lot of different questions to be asked about the process of using background checks for employee screening.

More and more these days, a new question is joining the list: should you use social media profiles to learn more about your applicants? The social media background check is arguably the most complicated one of all, though, and you’ll have to weigh various factors before deciding whether or not to go digging through an applicant’s Facebook page. Read on to get a better sense of what you need to know to make an informed decision.

Consider the Benefits

If you are thinking about doing a social network check of an applicant or two, chances are that you already know exactly what sort of benefits you could get out of such an action. It’s a common complaint from hiring managers that applicants don’t necessarily show their true colors in an interview. On the contrary, all applicants are understandably trying to show off the best of themselves for prospective employers: their politeness, their work ethic, their experience, etc. Interviewing for a job is very much a performance, and sometimes, applicants won’t really show their true selves until later on.

Because of this, it’s easy to see why social media background checks are popular. By looking at someone’s statuses, photos, comments, and overall online behavior, hiring managers can find out how their applicants actually behave in their day-to-day lives.

Sometimes, social profiles just confirm a person to be the friendly, conscientious person that appeared in a job interview. Other times, they reveal someone who likes to post rude or offensive comments, complain about work online, or publish photos of illegal activities. In the interview, these two different personalities might have seemed similar. On Facebook, they couldn’t be more different. Social media background checks, therefore, help separate the hirable from the undesirable.

Know the Dangers

However, while social media background checks definitely have their advantages, there are also reasons why you should seriously consider not doing them.

Arguably the number one reason to avoid social media background checks is that the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) is against them. That doesn’t mean that bosses or hiring managers have been barred against looking at the Facebook profiles of their employees or applicants. Such a law would be tough to enforce and would unfairly restrict an employer’s ability to move around and interact with their workers online.

Still, the EEOC will go after companies if it is discovered that a social media background check led to a discriminatory hiring decision. This is because social networks like Facebook can reveal information that a hiring manager is absolutely not allowed to know, because that information might give them a bias against a certain applicant. What information, you might ask? The same kind of stuff employers can’t ask about on job applications: age, gender identification, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, race or ethnicity, and more. Between photos, posts, and about sections, Facebook can reveal almost all of this information, and can therefore impair an employer’s ability to make a fair, unbiased hiring decision.

The Compromise

So is there a compromise? Is there a way to look at social profiles and learn an applicant’s true behavioral colors without necessarily discovering all of the potentially discriminatory information discussed above?

Lucky for employers everywhere, the answer to that question is “yes.”

The compromise can be found in remembering how background check reports are actually compiled. A hiring manager may pursue a background check of an employer, but that doesn’t mean the hiring manager is actually doing the background investigation. If you’re looking into a prospective employee’s background, that doesn’t mean that you’re digging through criminal histories and court records yourself, looking for information about a person you’re thinking about hiring. Instead, it means that you contract a firm to do the background check for you. This firm then compiles the background check report for you, giving you all the information you need to make an educated and informed hiring decision about your applicant.

The key here is that you, as the hiring manager, don’t actually execute a criminal background check yourself. So why should you do the digging when it comes to social media checks?

The problem with social checks arises from the fact that the hiring manager learns too much about his or her applicant. To remove that problem from the equation, you can simply pass off the social check duties to someone not actually in charge of making a hiring decision. Ask another person in your organization—probably an HR rep—to look at your applicant’s Facebook. Have that person note any questionable online behavior that might impair the applicant’s ability to do the job at hand in adequate fashion, or that could reflect badly on the company’s reputation. Finally, have the HR representative compile a report with this information contained in it.

This way, you avoid the questionable components of social media background checks while still enjoying the benefits. By simply having another person look at your applicants’ social profiles—and having that person deliberately leave out any particularly personal or potentially discriminatory information—you can use social media background checks as a hiring tool without having to worry about the EEOC breathing down your neck.