How to Use Social Media For Background Checks

Should an employer be allowed to ask a job applicant for their personal information, such as their hobbies and marital status? If so, should they also be allowed to access their social media accounts?

Social media. It’s become an omnipresent part of our lives. Do you even remember what it was like before you could post your status online in mere seconds and immediately get feedback from your friends, your family, and your professional network?

All this online sharing has created a minefield for employers and hiring managers. But is it a forbidden fruit? Can they use it? Could I be a lawyer and answer (in) one word: yes. Should they use it? Now I’ll be a little more like a real lawyer: maybe.

And I think there’s been this resistance because if you use it, what may you find? You may find things you can’t consider. You may find that someone’s pregnant. You may find that someone has a medical condition because it could be posted on their Facebook page. If you know it, someone could say you considered it. So there are risks in doing it. But you know what? There are risks in not doing it.

A career builder survey highlighted some of those risks. Employers say they passed on an applicant after seeing the candidate posted things like provocative or inappropriate photographs or information. Information about them drinking or using drugs, posts bad-mouthing previous employers or former colleagues, derogatory comments about race, gender, or religion. Details about criminal behavior, that they lied about an absence from work, had an unprofessional screen name, and many more.

As Siegel mentioned, weeding out people over some of these issues can actually save you from trouble and even litigation in the future. He told us one story of a candidate who was interviewing to be a college recruiter. A search of public information may have saved this school tons of headaches. And what they saw was a picture of someone who was being interviewed to be a college recruiter, and he was wearing nothing but a thong.

Now that’s not a good idea for anyone on their Facebook. For this guy, it was a particularly bad idea. And could you imagine if the school, the college had not done it? The parents would say, “You know, you’re gonna be interviewed by X tomorrow, let’s see what we can find out about him because, you know, we employers are doing social media searches, but so are applicants. And then they would find out they’re being interviewed by thong man. Not a good thing! So what’s an employer to do? What are the do’s and the don’ts when it comes to using social media for hiring? Those details coming up in part two of our social media series.


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