Should You Check a Job Candidate’s Social Media Channels?


Yes, but with a few caveats.

It’s a practice that a whopping 93 per cent of employers are said to employ yet precious few like to openly discuss. So what is social media screening – and should you be doing it too?

Social media screening is the process of checking out a potential candidate’s online presence before offering (or rejecting) the possibility of an interview or job. It’s a hotly debated subject, with plenty of arguments for and against.

It’s easy to see the appeal from an employer’s perspective, hence the staggering statistics of employers using social media as a recruitment tool. Indeed, the fact that services such as Rep’nUp exist – a firm that will scroll through your digital footprint, deleting potentially reputation-damning material as they go – tells us how prevalent cyber snooping on our prospective employees is.

But is it legal? Yes, is the short answer. Unless the candidate has taken precautionary steps in regards to their privacy settings, social media is a public platform, which means content is legally searchable and viewable to anyone with access to the Internet.

The subject goes deeper than legalities, however. A simple search means that information about a candidate – such as ethnicity, age, religion and gender – that they may have chosen to keep private on their CV is now available to you. So while the act of viewing material online is legal, discriminating against anything you stumble upon certainly isn’t.

So, it’s legal but is it ethical?

“It can be a valuable part of your recruitment process when used with the right intentions,” advises Megan Love, a Human Resources manager for surf brand Quiksilver. Megan believes social media screening should “only be one part of finding the best candidate to join your team” and not the sole method. And as there is no universal law when it comes to social media screening, a certain amount of common sense is required.

Here, Megan discusses her strategies on how to stay on the right side of ethics and the law when it comes to recruiting and social media…

The rules for social snooping

Know what you’re looking for

Before tapping a name into your search engine, have a clear idea of what you are looking for. Is this a fact checking exercise? Or are you looking for evidence of inappropriate or offensive conduct? Have your objective written down in front of you to avoid needless trawling.

“In the cases where we would review the social media profile of a potential employee, it is to establish the brand they portray,” Megan explains Quiksilver’s approach to social media searching.

“We want to learn more about the candidate around who they are and what attracts them to work for our company,” she adds. While she notes that this information can be gleaned during an interview, “fortunately – or unfortunately – their social media presence can tell [us] a great deal about who they are.”

Spot the red flags

An estimated 43 per cent of candidates are disqualified due to inappropriate content found on their social media accounts. So, what should we be looking out for?

“One key standout is reviewing any comments they have made about their current or previous employer,” says Megan. Other things you might want to keep an eye out for is any evidence of illegal activity, racism or sexism etc.

However, if you do find something that scuppers their chances of employment, perhaps consider offering the candidate an opportunity to respond. You never know – there could be a genuine reason behind that questionable status update.

Are they a good fit for your company?

It’s not just inappropriate online behaviour or offensive content you should be on high alert for; a quick online search could also establish whether this candidate is good fit for your brand.

For example, are you looking for someone with a genuine interest in, say, fashion? A quick spy at their Instagram page will tell you if that ‘passion’ they cite on their CV is the real deal.

“We are a lifestyle company operating within the retail space therefore we are looking to attract like-minded employees who value what we do,” explains Megan. “We love to know an employee is active and focuses on their wellbeing.”

Set some ground rules

To avoid discrimination, consider implementing a social media screening policy for your company. This might include ensuring every applicant is screened at the exact same stage of the recruitment process, thus avoiding a random, scattergun approach that could be deemed unfair.

For example, candidates that are screened online at Quiksilver are always done so after their CVs have been shortlisted. This means that the first impression they’ve made of a potential employee is one based on their resume and not on pictures of their 2007 schoolies trip to Bali.

“It is not an official part of the process and in 90 per cent of cases we would not check the social media account of a candidate unless it deemed relevant to their role,” Megan explains of the company’s current social media screening process. “We hire a diverse range of people across many divisions so it is important that we find someone who is a cultural fit and they value the same key drivers.”

For more information on establishing your own social media screening policy, look to the CIPD for current pre-employment law and advice.


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