Social media continues to evolve and the world has become increasingly savvy about how to use privacy settings and what can and can’t be communicated on their social media accounts.  There is a time and a place to complain about your boss or flaunt those photos of you and your friends stood at the bar whilst brandishing an inflatable llama and many now understand it is not in an online public arena where potential employers can view it.


In short – many of us have taken steps to protect our online image and reputation. One reason this has been happening is a general awareness about how hard it can be to take something back once it is posted, and simultaneously a looming awareness that more and more employers are prepared to use personal social media to screen a candidate before making a hiring decision.


According to data 70% of employers are prepared to research a candidate’s ‘personal’ social media activity and 66% google a candidate’s name before inviting them for interview.  For me, that seems an incredibly high percentage and to be clear we really are talking ‘personal’ social media like Facebook and not ‘professional social media like LinkedIn.  But it’s free, it’s easy to do and it is one of the simplest ways of revealing discrepancies’ in a job application and a candidate’s real character.


What alarms me about this practice is that recruitment in so many cases is already incredibly unscientific, biased and poorly measured.  Ask any HR professional and they can (and will) write a thesis on the limitations involved in using 1-2-1 interviews.  At least a 1-2-1 interview seems to have a clear objective attached to it i.e. this is an opportunity for a candidate and employer to evaluate how suitable each is for the other and for the role on offer. Checking social media though….does it really come with the same clarity of thought and objectivity?


I would suggest not.  Or certainly I suggest not in the majority of cases where I envisage an employer logs on to someone’s Facebook photos to subjectively pass judgement on how well they take a selfie and they are doing so without an internal brief or clear aim as to what they should be looking at.


69% of employers say they have rejected an application due to what they saw about them on a social media site.  The reasons for rejecting the candidate include details that they have lied about their qualifications (13%), posted negative comments about a previous employer (11%) or shared confidential information from a previous employer (7%). Yet, other reasons for rejecting candidates included posting inappropriate photos (11%), inappropriate comments (11%), content about drinking (9%) and candidates demonstrating poor communication skills (11%).  I understand how some of these would influence an employer’s thought process, but I also see how some of these areas are subjective and as such I believe there does come a moment where a line should be drawn separating one’s professional and personal life and judgement need not be passed.  The emphasis to do this though rests with the employee to manage privacy settings and their online reputation.


The real concern is that employers are rejecting suitable applicants on the basis of information that should not be up for debate – namely protected characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation and disability or maybe obligations external to the job such as family and/or pregnancy – and to be frank an HR Manager should break out in hives if that is reported to be happening on their watch.


Candidates seem fairly clear cut on the issue.  Two thirds believe it is inappropriate for employers to check profiles on ‘personal’ social media sites as part of the recruitment process and yet 55% do use ‘professional’ social media sites to market achievements and promote their career to potential employers and that gives the clue as to where candidates expect to be screened.


In a sense though, what the candidate believes is appropriate or inappropriate has little standing in the debate – employers are screening personal social media profiles and are unlikely to stop anytime soon.  Sure there has been debate around privacy and cases have been highlighted where employers asked candidates for passwords to access accounts, but at least legislation has been introduced to stop that practice as it was considered to be going too far.


As a recruiter I believe robust interview and selection methods will reduce the need to screen a candidate’s social media platforms, but I guess the world we live in means it is an activity that many will still engage in – and so there will be the potential for HR to see an increase in claims of discrimination.


If as a recruitment function you choose to use social media as a part of the screening process with candidates – be professional in your approach.  Understand you are about to see a very one-sided perspective of an individual that does not reflect them professionally.  Have a policy / brief in place about how social media will be used, what type of information is actually reviewed and when during the recruitment process this screening takes place.


And remember, recruitment is about sourcing great talent, not rejecting it because you don’t like the selfie!


About the Author:

Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency based in Aldershot that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond).  Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade.  He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management.  If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.