Many companies screen candidates on social media. Here’s what you need to be paying attention to.
5 min read
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Given that there are 3.03 billion active social media users and that people have an average of 5.54 social media accounts, social media is now an important part of the hiring process. Seventy percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring, according to a survey conducted for CareerBuilder by Harris Poll.
Employers can learn a huge amount about potential hires from social media. From family pictures to weekend hobbies to professional blog posts, people share troves of information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others that can be a goldmine for employers looking to get beyond resumes. However, sorting through all the noise and irrelevant content to identify the useful nuggets of information can be tricky. Most potential hires won’t have obvious red flags, so employers need to read between the lines.
Here are three things employers should look for on social media when searching for the perfect candidate.
1. The “authentic” self
Job candidates always put their best, most professional foot forward in formal applications and job interviews. They emphasize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and it can be tough to get a genuine read on who a person is from a cover letter or an interview. Even references, which provide some insight, are not always helpful. Candidates are only going to include references they know will be positive, and a previous employer may not be looking for the same qualities as you are.
Social media is where people share who they are, or at least, who they want others to think they are, in a fairly intimate (yet public) way. LinkedIn is business-centric, but other social media platforms are where people display their personalities, opinions, likes, dislikes and the way they navigate the world. If a candidate seems very argumentative on Twitter or behaves childishly on Facebook, that doesn’t necessarily mean he behaves the same way offline, but it does provide a glimpse into his interior life. Properly attributing credit when using images that are not your own, such as those from stock photo sites, blogs or online search engines, is also important, as it avoids plagiarism on social media. The separation between internet “self” and real-world “self” grows narrower every day.
Just as these platforms can help spot potential problems, so can they demonstrate that someone could be a good fit. For example, if someone is applying for a role as an event planner, photos of events she has organized posted to her social media could help reinforce her employment experience.
2. Business outlook
It’s increasingly common today for people to use social media for professional, as well as personal, purposes. People are writing blog posts on Medium, sharing articles on Facebook and engaging in conversations on Twitter as part of their work life. A well-established aspect of modern careers, especially for younger hires, is the need to build a personal “brand.” Employers can learn a lot about how potential hires view their skill set, their role, their industry and more from these types of content. Reading things they’ve written or articles they’ve shared can indicate whether a candidate aligns with a company’s values and culture. It can also provide insight into their attitude. Do they tend to be positive and excited about work? Or negative and prone to complaining?
Social media is also a valuable resource when preparing for an interview. If potential hires for a HR position have engaged in discussions around diversity and pay gaps, asking them about specific points they’ve made can bring an interview to a deeper level.
3. Qualifications and references
Social media can help employers flesh out things they read in candidates’ job applications or validate things they’ve said in a cover letter. For a potential hire who claims to have a large network or strong communication skills, employers can look to social media to back up those claims. Resume “padding” is not uncommon, so employers can use social media to see if the information employees stated in their application matches up with what they said online. It’s a tool for vetting and due diligence.
Social media can help employers locate “backdoor references” as well. If hiring managers or team leads have a mutual connection with a potential hire, which is not unusual within industries, they can reach out to their contact for an assessment. A backdoor reference may provide a more candid, accurate perspective than someone a candidate handpicked.
Using social media to evaluate candidates is no longer considered snooping. Anyone applying for a job today should go in with the expectation that his or her social media presence is fair game for employers. Social media can help employers get a sense for who candidates are, whether that matches who they say they are and whether they’d be a good fit for a job. It is important to remember that privacy is crucial, and not everything is public, so whatever you see on a candidate’s account is exactly what he or she wants you to see. Though employers don’t want to pry into candidates’ private lives, it would be wrong to overlook the public message that the person has chosen to convey about themselves. Of course, more traditional forms of the hiring process, like resumes and interviews, remain central, but social media can help recruiters get beyond polished candidates to see the “real” people underneath.