As more and more people sign on to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the many other social media sites available, hiring professionals are becoming more tempted to take a peek at their personal information before hiring an applicant. Who can blame them? There is virtual goldmine of valuable information to be gleaned from a person’s profile, blog, photograph or collection of tweets. Lending institutions could benefit greatly by knowing about a mortgage professional’s online presence upfront.
However, this type of investigation is not without its risks. There is a sea of controversy swirling around about utilizing social media to screen job candidates, and whether or not a company should do it.
According to a recent survey by Careerbuilder, 37 percent of companies use social media to screen their applicants, and 11 percent of companies plan to use it in the near future. Social media allows hiring managers to gain unprecedented access to information about the applicant. They can discover negative aspects (vulgar language, bad grammar, illegal activities) and also positive information (charity work, good communication skills, awards received) with just a few clicks of a mouse. Banks and mortgage companies could benefit from this type of information. Someone who will not represent the lending institution in a professional manner online could be detrimental to the business’s reputation and public persona. Just one faux pas by an employee can sometimes take a company years to recover!
However, there are drawbacks. A profile also may show information about a person’s race, age, religion or disability; all of which are illegal to use in the hiring process. Once an employer sees this information, they cannot “unring the bell.” Once you have it, there is no way to prove it had no bearing on the hiring process. Employers that use social media sites to make employment-related decisions without taking the time to implement them into their current hiring policy processes could be violating employment and privacy laws.
While it is not illegal to look at a candidate’s social media footprint, it’s advisable to consider several matters before you hop on the Internet to check out a potential employee.
Here are seven steps to follow if your company decides to utilize social media in its pre-employment screening process:
1. Develop a clear-cut policy
When planning to utilize social media in the hiring process, one of the most important steps to take is to create a policy. Set the sites in place that will be screened, as well as the information you will be trying to find. While positive and negative information may be uncovered about the candidate, the best practice is to look for relevant information related to their work. While you don’t really need to be privy to someone’s partying habits or the fact that they kissed a boy in the streets of New Orleans, you would need to know about unsavory behaviors like racial slurs, threats of violence or misleading information about their work history or educational background.
2. Get the applicant’s consent
It’s considered best practice to follow the same notice and disclosure policies as you normally would with any pre-employment screen. Advise the applicant that part of your company’s screening process entails checking their social media footprint, and gain their consent to do so.
3. Remember that consistency is the key
One of an employer’s most important defenses in a lawsuit is consistency within company policies. Social media screening policies should be written in black and white, and should specifically outline the sites screened and the information being sought. This policy needs to be applied to EVERY candidate. You can get yourself into trouble by using a “go with your gut” strategy and screening only those whom you feel look suspicious. If the policy states you do not screen Twitter tweets because you feel they have no relevant information about job performance, don’t suddenly look at it if the candidate looks sneaky or has too many piercings.
4. Use a third-party to perform the search
If the person conducting the hiring performs the social media search themselves, it is a given that they will eventually see information they should not use in the hiring process. Examples of this are a person’s age, race, religion, health condition, etc. Using a third-party, independent researcher to perform the search will greatly reduce this risk. The researcher (which can be someone from outside the hiring department but still within the company or a third-party background screening company) should work from a list the hiring manager has pre-defined that they want to discover about the candidate. Upon completion, the researcher can return their findings, while omitting any information that is illegal to use in a hiring decision. This practice will ensure that the person or people making the hiring decision do not have access to protected information.
5. Do not “Friend Request” the applicant or ask them for their passwords!
Both actions are big no no’s and can bring on all kinds of trouble. When screening job applicants by utilizing social media, view only public information. Do not “Fiend,” “Follow,” or “Connect” with the applicant so you can see additional private information. And never ask the applicant for the passwords to their social media accounts. Most social media sites have privacy sections in their agreements that ban a user from sharing their login information. Additionally, several states have even gone so far as to already pass legislation banning companies from asking for individual’s passwords. This needs to be viewed as a big invasion of privacy and avoided at all costs.
6. Have a concrete reason if you deny employment to the applicant
If a social media search returns information that causes you to reject an applicant, an employer needs to be able to point to specific hiring requirements as a reason to not hire a person (such as evidence the person has badmouthed their current employer, participated in illegal activities, used bad judgment, lied about their background, etc).
7. Give the applicant a chance to explain
If a piece of information is found on social media that would weigh against the applicant’s chances of being hired, do not write them off immediately. Showing the applicant what was found on social media, telling them why it’s a concern, and giving them a chance to explain is an important part of the screening policy. Perhaps the negative information was inaccurate or misleading. There is also a chance it was a different person of the same name. The applicant deserves the chance to refute the information.
It is highly recommended and advisable for any lending institution to implement these steps into their pre-employment screening policy before they begin utilizing social media to screen applicants. Remember, while social media sites can offer lots of valuable information on a potential job candidate and their fit within a company, this should not be the only background screening tool utilized in the hiring decision. In order to make a sound hiring decision, social media screening should be used thoughtfully along with the more traditional methods of screening.
Using social media sites to screen job candidates is not risk-free. However, when implemented into an employer’s current policy and with guidelines intelligently drawn, social media screening can supply a better, all-round understanding of the job candidate.
Susan McCullah has worked in the consumer reporting industry with Data Facts since 2003 in sales, product development, and is currently the company’s marketing project manager. She served on the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Board from 2004-2006. Susan is NCRA/FCRA certified, and is responsible for Data Facts’ social media campaigns. She may be reached by phone at (800) 264-4110 or e-mail [email protected]