When Does Researching a Candidate Become Snooping


Social media screening has become part and parcel of the recruitment process, but is there a line that we shouldn’t cross? How far is too far when it comes to doing a background check on your potential candidate?

We all know how important a thorough background check is and how much needless pain and wasted time it can prevent. But as technology in our lives evolves, so too has the humble background check. No longer is it enough to simply call up a candidate’s references and hope they’re telling you the truth.

With the advent of social media as an integral part of our everyday lives, the savvy recruiter and hiring manager have found a readymade and incredibly valuable tool to help define a candidate’s personality traits and perhaps even discover their attitude towards work and their career.

The benefits of a good social media snoop
If a candidate is particularly active on social media, then there are numerous nuggets of information a recruiter might discover such as

• Red flags – Posts sharing sensitive details about work, rants about customers, or the fact that they lied on their resume about inventing the smartphone.
• Work ambitions – If their dream is to be an actor, but they haven’t disclosed this then they just might not be the right fit for that accountancy firm.
• Who they are interacting with – A candidate that is engaging in conversations (even ones on social media platforms) with influencers within their niche is worth taking note of.
• How they write – Now we’re not talking about the ‘I’m tired, gonna skip the gym today’ type of posts. The longer posts that convey a message or look to educate their followers are a great basis for judging a candidate’s ability to communicate their thoughts.

There are of course more things that we can glean from their social media activity, but this is where the waters get a bit muddy.

What candidates think about it
There’s an argument that if it’s online, then it’s fair game, but that doesn’t really hold much water. Social media is a great tool for connecting with fellow professionals, but not everyone sees it that way. In fact, some might feel that their chosen social media platform is a haven of self-expression, a place where they can say what they want when they want.

While this may not be a great idea especially for job seekers, it’s entirely possible that the candidate under inspection (it sounds awful when put that way) has drawn a definite line between their personal online activity and their work life.

A study by North Carolina State University found that candidates who discover that prospective employers are checking their personal social media accounts find the practice unfair and an invasion of privacy. This of course has a detrimental effect on the hiring process as we all understand the value of a positive candidate experience when building a brand reputation.

The legal ramifications of recruitment based on snooping
Let’s take the United States as an example. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and several other antidiscrimination laws prohibit employers from making a hiring decision based on certain characteristics including race, religion, gender, or disability. These laws have been successful in preventing such discrimination, but when a hiring manager has access to all of these details through social media, they may, even subconsciously, make a decision based on one of these characteristics.

Now, there is no legal precedent for this as it’s virtually impossible to determine whether a recruiter has removed a candidate from the hiring process due to such characteristics, but it does raise a few questions.

Can recruiters say without a doubt that their judgment is not swayed by discovering these facts about a candidate?

Is it morally acceptable to even try to find out these details prior to hiring a person?

All the recruiters we know agree that their number one priority for any hiring process is the candidate’s ability and their suitability for the position so we’d like to think that these issues are not a genuine concern, but they are still something to be aware of.

Know when to stop 
Whether candidates like it or not, the practice of social media profile scanning isn’t going to go away. Like we said earlier, it’s too valuable a tool in determining an individual’s fit for a company.

So where’s the line?

It’s a tough one to call as there are many factors which can determine how much a recruiter actually needs to know; the responsibilities of the position, the people they will be working with, and possibly even the company’s policies from a moral standpoint.

A good recruiter will know how much information is enough and which posts they should ignore. However, maintaining such an objective point of view can be quite difficult in the mire of cocktail-laden photos and selfies that reveal just a little too much.

So it’s best to remember one thing; candidates are people too.

Should we care if a candidate’s Facebook wall is a litany of wanton destruction of public property? Of course we should!

But is it really such a big deal that they got into a rather heated discussion with a friend with opposing political views? No, it certainly isn’t.

Knowing where to draw that line is key to making proper use of social media profile scanning in the recruitment process.

Decision time
As valuable as it might seem (and we do believe in the power of a good social media profile) snooping too far into someone’s online activity is tantamount to being a plain old nosey parker. Do you really want to be that person that judges a person based on a few misguided posts and shared photographs?

When it’s crunch time, it’s time to put things into perspective. Like we said, candidates are people just like recruiters are, and as people, we are all prone to making errors of judgment.

If their online activity has no direct connection to or ramifications for the position offered, and once there are no dreaded red flags, then it’s probably best to disregard it entirely. And if the company encourages employees to use their social media accounts for work, then have a word and make sure it’s cleaned up before any potential start date.

Social media is fast becoming an indispensable part of our daily lives and as such is a great means to assess a candidate’s suitability for a role. But finding profiles takes time, so  for an account now and let TalentDash do all the legwork and locate your talent for you while you sit back and relax. 

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