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The dos and don'ts of screening potential applicants online

By Kate Maunder on 16 Sep 2015

There are now many different social media platforms and chances are potential candidates applying for your jobs are on at least one of them. These platforms are used for different reasons; LinkedIn is great for publishing your career profile, Facebook is good for connecting with friends, people voice their opinions on Twitter, Instagram is all about the pictures and Google+ is a mixture of the above.

So where do you start when you want to screen candidates online? And which information can you use while keeping yourself protected from discrimination charges? This month we give you our dos and don’ts to consider when screening candidates online.

DON’T plunge into online vetting before deciding in advance what you want to find out and how you will use it.

Vetting a candidate's online activity is completely legal if it is publically accessible, but employers need to be careful they are not basing recruitment decisions on discriminatory factors, such as age, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs. The legislation in the Equality Act applies equally to online as well as offline vetting.

Before beginning online screening, consider exactly what you are trying to find out about a candidate and ensure you are consistent. Create a policy that all hiring managers should adhere to when viewing applicants online. For example, make sure candidates are only screened against company culture / work ethics. Check the same information on the same platforms for every candidate.

It won’t necessarily be obvious which sites the candidate is active on; the applicant may include their online addresses for LinkedIn / Twitter on their CV. If not, start by searching the applicant’s name in a search engine such as Google. If the candidate has a common name, it can bring up a sea of results, so you may need to add their current job title or organisation.
If Google does not bring up the right results, try searching within the social media platform itself.

DO check the detail on their profiles

If they have a LinkedIn account, check how dates and job titles etc match up to their CV. Some discrepancies may occur accidentally, but it's worth checking them with the candidate.  Because a LinkedIn profile is in the public domain, it can be more accurate than a CV, where candidates might be tempted to embroider their experience.

When browsing profiles on Instagram and Facebook, remember that these are predominantly personal profiles that are not used in the workplace. So look beyond occasional pictures/ posts, instead think about how this person would fit with your company culture and look out for any aggressive behaviour.

You shouldn’t simply run a ‘trawling exercise’ on a candidate’s profile to see what pops up but should be searching instead for specific information related directly to the job. The only exception to this is if you are recruiting for someone who will act as a brand ambassador for your organisation, a CEO, PR Manager, Celebrity Liaison or Major Gift Fundraiser for example. In certain cases, there is an argument to be made for checking for anything that could bring embarrassment to the organisation through association, although this is of course, highly subjective.

There could also be an argument made for going through a candidate’s personal social posts to ensure they haven’t made any comments that would be counter to the organisation’s aims.

DO check if the candidate has built an online brand

Look beyond their personal updates and instead look how they interact in their field. For example, do they share relevant news stories in their industry, are they active in discussion forums in their field. If they Tweet do they engage positively? Do they have many followers/ connections? This might be particularly important for senior roles or jobs within marketing and communications where they will be managing your online presence.

It may be difficult to view every applicant’s profiles. They may have privacy settings set so people can’t view their profile. This does not necessarily mean they are hiding anything, but may literally mean they use the site for personal use and don’t wish to share their data, especially pictures, and it’s important for employers to respect that right to privacy. 

DON’T forget to talk to your candidate

According to the best practice guide to pre-employment checks from the CIPD, a candidate should be informed at the outset if online sources may be used to collect information about them.

Don’t let a few indiscretions rule a candidate out, especially when found on personal networking sites such as Facebook.  If you discover information about the candidate that you feel is relevant in their application and not on their CV, then it’s important to give the candidate a chance to respond. Often candidates have not realised the odd discrepancy and are normally happy to be told about them, so they can adjust them.

If you are actively looking for a new role, ensure your online profile is clean for employers. Read our career advice article here

You can see some classic social media blunders made by employees here.