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To Screen or Not to Screen: Social Media Screening in the Hiring Process

Social media has become an ever-present platform for self-expression and interpersonal connection in the twenty-first century. Since 2017, the number of social media users has increased by 920 million and the average time spent on social media per person per day has risen to 145 minutes (Tankovska,2021 & Djordjevic,2021).

The impact social media has on business marketing and hiring is massive. Social media allows for the expression of beliefs, attitudes, relationships, goals, achievements, and any other information a user and potential job applicant deems acceptable to post. Because of the increased usage and public information about job candidates provided, employers have become increasingly concerned with the social media content of job applicants.

Today, 90% of employers screen their job applicants on social media for inappropriate content and verification of resume statements (McKeon, 2020). This insight article seeks to understand why social media screenings are used, how successful social media screenings are conducted, and what the future of social media screenings could be.

Why look at social media?

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” - Jackson Brown, Jr.


“Because we tend to view our personal social media accounts as being ‘personal,’ there’s a good chance that by viewing someone’s profile, you’ll get a glimpse into their personality beyond the resume,” states DeeAnn Sims of Dark Horse PR (Driver, 2020). While many people understand that social media is a public platform, most fail to realize that social media accounts impact both your professional and personal life.

Social media accounts have now become public social resumes. They give employers the opportunity to view candidates from a more personal and honest perspective, free from the pressures of traditional interviews. With studies showing that 80% of individuals lie during interviews at least once, employers are looking for consistency across social profiles and professional resumes to ensure that information and qualifications are true (Weiss & Feldman,2006). Information such as education and volunteer involvement can often be found on social media accounts and then compared to the applicant claims on their submitted resume. Studies show that when employers found social media profiles that supported applicants’ claimed qualifications, 38% of employers stated that they would be more likely to hire the applicant (CareerBuilder, 2017). By fact-checking applicant information using social media profiles, employers are able to ensure they are hiring genuinely qualified applicants.

Cost avoidance

With over one-third of employers stating that they have had to fire or reprimand an employee for inappropriate social media content, screening social media in the hiring process has become a useful tool to decrease employee turnover and termination (CareerBuilder, 2017). This need to fire or reprimand employees for inappropriate social media use is very costly.

The Society of Human Resource Management estimates that replacing an hourly worker alone costs approximately $1,500 (2019). Replacing a salary-employee costs approximately one-third of their annual earnings (SHRM, 2019). By screening social media accounts employers are able to avoid these costs before they happen. For example, when screening social media accounts, 54% of surveyed employers stated that they have “found content on social media that caused them to not hire a candidate.” 32% of employers choose not to hire employees due to discriminatory comments and 30% of employers didn’t hire candidates because they posted negative information about their previous employers (CareerBuilder, 2017).

By gaining insight into the social media habits of potential employees, employers can prevent the need to fire employees with poor social media habits in the future.

“Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” - Robert Half

How to screen social media accounts

5 steps in screening social media accounts

In 2016, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) shared 5 steps that employers should take when reviewing applicants’ social media profiles. Their recommendations are outlined and summarized below.

Create a social media screening policy

The SHRM recommends that companies should create a “social media screening policy demonstrating that legal and consistent practices are used.” These policies protect the organization from discrimination claims and also protect the job candidates from unintentional discrimination as well. By standardizing policies to avoid discriminatory hiring decisions more valid predictions of job performance can be made. The SHRM recommends including who will conduct the screening, when the screening will take place, which positions will be screened, how the screening will be performed, and who the results will be given to, and how they will be presented.

Prepare screening questions for the position

By preparing questions for the social media screening, there is further assurance that all “applicants are being screened fairly.” These questions also guide the social media screener in their search for specific information that applies to the job and remains non-discriminatory. Questions about references may also be included. These references can refer to the comments that previous employers and coworkers have made that pertain to their career on their social media accounts. When creating these questions, it is vital that all questions are job-related, focused on equal opportunities, and applied across all qualified applicants.

Conduct the screening

When screening applicant social media accounts, the screener should only access social media sites listed in their social media screening policy. If the screener has to use an account for social media screening, they can choose to use their personal account or the corporation’s account. Screeners can only view information about applicants that have been made public. Claims that are made on social media accounts such as publications, can be verified with additional search engines. These open searches allow corporations to further verify the information given by job candidates. As the screener screens the job candidates’ social media, it is important that the screener documents all “search methods and sites visited.” In all social media reports to hiring managers, the URL must be present and a screenshot is recommended.

Prepare and provide a report to the hiring manager

Results of the social media screening are to be reported only to those specified in the social media screening policy. Reports should only include job-related results such as certification verifications. SHRM states that in cases where there are few results, applicants should not be penalized unless the job applied for focuses on “social media or public relations.” It is likely that in these cases the applicant does not participate in social media. Lastly, SHRM states that “In every report, the screener should reiterate that social media screening is only one part of the job selection process and should not weigh more than the interview, employment history, and other factors when deciding whom to hire.”

Retain the documentation

For protection against discrimination charges, the steps taken place and individuals involved in the social media screening should be documented. SHRM recommends that screening reports be held on file one year for private contractors, but two years for federal contractors. After files are held for the appropriate time, they should be shredded appropriately.

Legal considerations

To avoid discrimination claims, social media screenings should occur “later in the interview process process” and be focused on specific job-related factors (SHRM, 2016). In many states, it is illegal to ask potential employees for their social media login information to bypass privacy settings (Paljug, 2021).

Attempting to bypass social media privacy settings is illegal. If a candidate has a social media account with privacy settings, it’s illegal for corporations to create a fake social media account and attempt to “friend” the applicant for access to their social media accounts information.

Even though social media is a public resource, it is still important for corporations to understand legal hiring practices and how to avoid discrimination when analyzing candidate information. Having policies in place before screening an applicant’s social media will safeguard both the employee and corporation from discrimination.

The future of social media screening: personality classification

“As people broadcast their lives online, they create digital fingerprints, creating the possibility for a modern approach to matching one’s personality and occupation…” - Kern et al, 2019

As social media has become the sounding board for personal opinions, emotions, beliefs, and relations, employers and researchers alike have begun studying personality classification using social media accounts. If employers are able to effectively identify the personality of an applicant based on their social media, employers will be better able to hire employees that integrate into their corporate culture and have a higher sense of fulfillment in their careers.

The research

Kern McCarthy, Chakrabarty, and Rizoiu sought to further understand this link between social media, personality, and optimum employment. In their research, they selected 15,000 job titles from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and 1.5 million English-speaking Twitter users. These 1.5 million Twitter users stated their occupation in their account. Their latest 200 tweets were used in the study. Enough data was collected to determine the “digital fingerprints for 128,279 users, representing 3,513 occupations” (Kern et al, 2019). Kern and her team put this data into a linguistic analysis program called the IBM Watson system. This system uses the “linguistic information” from social media postings to “infer personality characteristics of users” (Kern, 2019).

The results

After analyzing the collected data, they found that personality characteristics did correlate with specific careers and occupations. This finding suggests that specific personalities are more likely to be found in certain industries and they are more likely to be fulfilled in this specific industry than others. Kern and her team suggest that in the future employers and counselors could use data from social media analysis to determine the career path that best fits the individual’s personality instead of intensive self-report studies.

This research is insightful for employers because it validates the importance of analyzing social media accounts. Kern and her team offer evidence that certain personalities are more likely to be found in specific careers. This information is useful because it encourages employers to further contemplate what characteristics they want in an employee and more accurately seek these characteristics out with the help of social media.

What does it all mean?

Social media has become a vital source of information for those involved in the hiring process within an organization. By analyzing the social media accounts of individuals, employers can further validate information given during the interview process and further support their pursuit of a qualified employee. Employers are also able to avoid the future costs of hiring and reprimanding employees for poor social media behavior by refraining from hiring job candidates with inappropriate content on their social media.

Current research shows that social media posts can be analyzed with the help of programs like the IBM Watson system to predict the personality and personality characteristics of applicants. By having additional information about the personality characteristics of job candidates from their social media accounts, employers can make more informed decisions about who to hire onto their employment team. The benefits of social media screening greatly support the hiring process by ensuring factual information and providing a closer look into the behavior and personality of job candidates.

“Hiring people is like making friends. Pick good ones, and they'll enrich your life. Make bad choices, and they'll bring you down.” - Jason Fried, Founder of Basecamp


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