Should recruiters use social media for background checks?

Posted by Kathleen Smith

A recruiter is trying to fill a job requisition and thinks she has found the perfect candidate. The recruiter is ready to make the job offer but decides to check some social media sites as a further background check on the applicant. On Facebook the candidate has posted that he only plans to stay in the geographic area for a year, and will then be moving on to another location. Should the recruiter contact the candidate and confront him? Should the applicant be removed from contention? Or should the recruiter move forward with the hire?

This was a real-life situation raised at the IDGA HR for Defense Summit yesterday. One participant thought it was inappropriate to use the information, while another pointed out that the individual had posted the information on a social media site. One more reminder to check your Facebook privacy settings!

Here’s Raghav Singh’s take on the issue in a recent blog post about using social media for background checks. And a Microsoft survey reporting 70% of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on online reputational information.

So what happened to the candidate in question moving to another area? He was removed from consideration for the position. What do you think the recruiter should have done and why?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:22 pm

3 thoughts on “Should recruiters use social media for background checks?”

  1. Often, when litigation is commenced, an attorney will want as much ammunition as possible to try and attack her or his opponent. Background checks can reveal all sorts of things about people that can be used to attack their credibility, truthfulness and to verify or refute the testimony that they provide. In criminal defense cases, many times a background check will be conducted on the accusers or witnesses to try and locate crimes of dishonesty to impeach their testimony.

  2. It depends entirely on whether such a search can be justified against the pre-defined selection criteria. For security cleared candidates most of this information should already have been considered during the clearance process. Excluding professional "social media" sites like LinkedIn, recruiters must exercise caution, select carefully the sites they consider and ask themselves why they are doing it and what they hope to achieve; did it arise from an unresolved or unsatisfactory answer during the interview or are they justifying their selection by looking at recommendations from other professionals?

    Excluding the potential for uncovering criminal activity (at which point notifying the authorities and binning the offer for sheer stupidity seems a fair course) a person’s social interactions, political affiliations, hobbies etc rarely have relevance to professional capability; however, we should all demonstrate good judgement about what we make visible on such sites.

    A "quick check" of social media information by "unskilled" people risks forming an incomplete or skewed picture, a false perspective that the recruiter "knows" the candidate and (potentially) an indefensible and subjective bias. Finally, the candidate may not be afforded an opportunity to explain or comment on whatever information is found.

  3. A good background investigator should use whatever legal resources are available for the investigation. Once the identity of the poster is established and confirmed either through a Google search of the name and the location of additional identity factors (photograph, address, etc.) in connection with a post, or perhaps by the Subject having already supplied a screen name or email address during an interview, the personal information found on a public access website is freely usable in any real world selection process.

    In the security clearance world relevant issues include conduct which can bring notoriety and/or embarrassment to the agency granting the clearance or doing the hiring. Videos of, or blogs about episodes of drunkenness or substance abuse should be balanced against interview statements concerning how often, or when was the last time you used..? On Hacker and Phreak sites boasts about hacking into bank records, copyright music downloads or trading stolen credit card numbers are also usable for determinations regarding ethical conduct and morality and trust. Adultery, a trust issue, is sometimes revealed by blogs and bragging posts on dating sites. Should a 25 year old be denied a clearance because of a posted on-line group sex video made when they were 17 or 19? Or there morality and judgment or life style issues to be considered there? Shouldn’t the Investigator be attempting to locate and interview the other participants as developed character references? What if the video is fairly recent? Is the Investigator doing his job if he/she finds the video online and decides not to convey the issue to those who authorized the investigation? People write the dumbest stuff and then put it on-line. "I was married to a girl once who…" Really? Subject stated they had never been married. How about, "I took a laptop from work once?" I’ve seen that one. Subject stated he had never stole, but declined a polygraph on the issue. Be careful in both what you post and what your friends post about you. That cell phone video of you drunkenly urinating out of a 7th floor apartment house window during a party last Xmas can really bite you when the deciding official views it and decides if you really are the one they need. Especially if you said it has been years since you were drunk. Either you lied, or you are crazy and prone to public urination at the drop of a hat, either way… In the same fashion a good investigator will track down former ‘significant others,’ fired ex-co-workers, those who made allegations of sexual harassment, etc. as developed leads for character assessment, so too will they be looking you up online. Welcome to the 21st century.

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