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Using Social Media as a Screening Tool for New Hires

By Noble McIntyre

Recruiting and hiring a new employee is never easy. Last time I talked about different ways you can use social media to find better job candidates. For some, though, the most difficult part comes when you have narrowed your pool to two or three candidates you think would be great additions to your team. Now you want to evaluate the finalists further.

You’ve heard rumblings about employers using social media to evaluate candidates, but how do you do it? What do you look for? What are the rules for doing it?

Rule No. 1: Don’t Be a Stalker

It’s fine to check out publicly available information on a candidate’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media profiles — in fact, more than being fine, it’s probably expected. But, as a prospective employer, know where to draw the line between getting to know the candidate as a person via his online persona, and becoming invested in reading the birthday wishes from Great Aunt Millie posted back in 2012.

One thing you can look for across social networks is inconsistencies in what candidates may have said in an interview and what appears on their resumes. For example, if the candidate stated he worked at a specific company for eight years but his LinkedIn profile says he graduated from college six years ago, that might be a good follow-up question. Perhaps he did begin his career at that company as a summer intern eight years ago while still in school, but if you have questions or doubts about those kinds of technical details, you can and should ask the questions. You want to know if it’s a misrepresentation or just a misunderstanding.

Rule No. 2: Respect Confidentiality

You might view a candidate’s profile and be surprised to learn that she’s Facebook friends with your next-door neighbor. As tempting as it may be to ask your neighbor how he knows the candidate and what she’s like, don’t. For one thing, if the candidate is still employed elsewhere, the current employer may not know she’s looking for a new job, and it’s not appropriate to let the cat out of the bag.

Second, you want to be sure that you’re judging the candidate in the most professional way possible. If he was fraternity brothers with your neighbor, or mowed his lawn in high school, or dated his daughter, the impression your neighbor would have of him could be drastically different than what you would experience in the workplace. Judge as you would any other candidate, regardless of these kinds of connections.

There are circumstances where a candidate’s online profiles can paint a picture of the person as irresponsible, or like someone you wouldn’t want representing your firm. If the candidate has photo after photo of himself drunk and in inappropriate positions with young girls, that might not be the right person for your firm, and it is legitimate to eliminate him from consideration on that basis.

However, remember those questions that you’re not allowed to ask in interviews? (Are you married? Heterosexual? Do you have children? A disability? What religion do you practice?) If you’re searching a candidate’s social media profiles, it’s likely you will stumble on the answers to these and other off-limits questions, even without intending to. At present, there are many states with legislation in the pipeline with regard to social media privacy between employers and employees or prospective employees. While the legislation varies from state to state, many are starting to say that employers may not ask a prospective employee for his social media user names, passwords or other identifying information. However, the information a candidate posts publicly is just that — public. Still, while it may not be provable that a candidate’s public social media profile had a role in her hiring, it’s best to avoid discriminating on the basis of something you view in a social profile, whether it is what you were looking to discover or not.

Pros and Cons of Using Social Media for Hiring

Whether or not you choose to research a job candidate online should depend on how comfortable you are with what you might find. Hopefully, the candidate is squeaky clean and appears to be someone who would be an asset to your firm. Or, the candidate might have his security settings locked down tight and all you can see about him is his name and photo, which could be a blessing in disguise.

The best argument for using social media for screening candidates is that it can allow you to get a better feel for who the candidate is, beyond what you can get from a resume and a few interviews. You can sometimes get a more detailed job history by looking at years-old tweets, or by viewing a robust LinkedIn profile.

The downside, though, is that lots of people are able to successfully separate their personal, online life from their professional one. The last thing you want to do is to make erroneous assumptions about someone based on what you see on a Facebook page. The bottom line is that social media can be an excellent tool for researching job candidates. Use it responsibly, though, and always view candidates’ (or employees’) social media profiles through a human resources lens.

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law. The Oklahoma City-based personal injury firm is focused on making the community safer, and has been very involved in charity work over the last few years. You can connect with him at @NobleMcIntyre, @McIntyreLaw, on Facebook and on Google+

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Categories: Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Hiring, Lawyer Social Media, You At Work
Originally published October 16, 2014
Last updated April 13, 2018
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