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Vetting Candidates with Social Media

Who exactly is this person you’re considering hiring? You read the resume; you participated in the interview; you conducted the background check. Until recent years, these were the only sources of information available to employers making hiring decisions.

However, with the advent of social media, many candidates have established an online presence for all the world to see. An online search can turn up anything from impressive work samples to insights into the candidate’s technical expertise to a look at his or her personality, interests and hobbies. A search can also turn up evidence of poor judgment in the form of questionable Facebook photos, careless blog comments or excessively opinionated tweets.Is it kosher for potential employers to scout out candidates’ online personas? We tell our clients yes—tap into this wealth of valuable information at your fingertips and use some of the same tools that executive recruiters use—with caution and respect.

Wealth of information. When visiting social media sites to check out potential employees, LinkedIn is the natural first stop. In addition to a tidy chronology of the candidate’s experience, you may find endorsements from former or current colleagues, a portfolio of the candidate’s creative work and commentary on topics of professional interest.

An open-privacy Facebook account can give you a peek at a person’s free-time activities and what they consider to be fun or funny. This personal view helps in determining whether a candidate is a good fit with your company’s culture. Tuning in to a candidate’s thoughts on Twitter lets you in on what’s important to this person and how he or she interacts with others.

Beyond the big three social media sites mentioned above, numerous other spots on the Internet—blogs, forums, SlideShare, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and emergent sites we haven’t even seen yet—provide additional potential windows into the capabilities, knowledge and character of this new team member under consideration.

If the sheer number of social media sites out there seems overwhelming, take heart knowing that a Google search on the person’s name will turn up most aspects of his or her Web presence.

Caution and respect. Rules regarding social media and the business place are relatively new, and civil law is built on court precedents. Laws concerning social media change with each case settled. Therefore, laws governing screening of employment candidates are evolving. The number one caution we offer is to recommend that you frequently touch base with legal counsel to make sure your cyber-vetting practices stay on the straight and narrow.

Asking prospects for their LinkedIn or Facebook logins is not good policy. This crosses the boundary of respect for the candidate that forms the foundation for a trusting employer/employee relationship. Additionally, it appears likely that eventually, requesting this information will be seen to breach the Stored Communications Act, which offers some protection of Internet privacy.

If you do elect to use social media sleuthing as part of your hiring process, we offer these suggestions to foster fairness and prevent the perception that your company uses social media to discriminate against a protected class. Establish a social media vetting policy that is applied equally to all candidates—and verify the legality of any proposed policy by consulting an employment practices attorney. Disclose to candidates that your background-checking procedures include social media research.Conduct the online search at a consistent point in the hiring process, preferably after the first interview but before making a job offer. Have someone other than the interviewer conduct the research.

There is much to gain from doing an Internet lookup on a potential new hire. Social media sites can provide a cornucopia of useful information about a candidate. Proceed with caution—and with respect for the candidate’s privacy—to reap the benefits of social media vetting.

Do you use social media to vet candidates? What benefits have you seen? What guidelines do you follow to ensure your practices are fair and legal?