Social Media Background Check 101: Everything You Need to Know
Michelle Wilson - June 23, 2022
If you’ve ever looked into your online footprint, you’ve probably discovered extensive information available to the public. Maybe you’re looking into a new career or transitioning into a professional role after post-secondary education. Either way, it’s not uncommon to scan social media profiles before hiring.
Recent studies suggest that 76 percent of businesses will inspect social media profiles to screen applicants. Cleaning up your accounts can ensure your privacy is upheld, and only the content you’d like displayed shows on the profiles.
Table of Contents
What is a Social Media Background Check?
A social media background check is when an employer carefully reviews an applicant’s social media portfolio to see whether he’d be a decent hire within their organization. Typically, this process runs toward the end of the hiring process, revealing information that traditional information doesn’t usually offer.
Understanding the Risks and Benefits
Although there are significant benefits to incorporating a social media background screening within the organization, there are potential risks too. Many HR professionals are wary of searching for potential applicants because of the potential risks influencing the offer of employment. As such, an employer should only perform a social media screening on an individual after you’ve finished the interview and other background screening.
The last thing an employer needs is a potential lawsuit because someone didn’t get the job due to social media results being misperceived. For example, should an employer investigate social media before other components of the hiring process, the risk comes from the information collected. Some of these details are called “protected characteristics” that cannot, by law, influence a hiring decision. These details include medical history, religion, nationality, age, and race. If you happen to run a social media background check that collects and identifies any of these details, you’ll run the risk of legal ramifications.
Why Should an Employer Run a Social Media Background Check?
A social media background offers details about an applicant that may otherwise be difficult to identify through traditional screening. Although resumes and interviews can help get a feel for the candidate, social media can offer different avenues of consideration when hiring an individual.
Assessing Cultural Fit
Discovering the perfect candidate isn’t always about the qualifications and skills of an applicant. You also need to confirm the person is an excellent cultural fit too. An applicant’s social media presence is a perfect way to determine the cultural influence.
Consider your organization’s priorities and values when assessing a candidate’s social media posts. Do they confirm or speak against values that your company holds? How does the applicant carry themselves on social media? These clues can help you determine how they may behave in an organizational setting.
Cultural Fit Shouldn’t Be Discriminatory
Use caution when assessing someone’s social media presence. It’s essential to limit the influence an individual post might hold online. Likewise, refrain from reading too much into work behavior from how they interact online. Rejecting an applicant based on political or religious views is also problematic for the business.
Be sure to use your social media presence to inform and educate, but don’t let it become the most important thing.
Identify Sexist or Violent Rhetoric Online
If you’ve found an applicant creating, sharing, or promoting posts that condone sexism or violence online, factor these posts into your hiring decision. These attitudes can become toxic and dangerous within the workplace. The last thing you want is a new hire posing a demoralizing influence on the workplace culture.
Although it’s always wise to pay attention to the negative information you find online, there’s a good chance you’ll see plenty of details that will encourage a hiring decision. Quickly looking through someone’s social media might highlight a candidate with caring qualities with active involvement in charity work. They may promote a friendly demeanor, offering a boost to corporate morale.
Whenever you decide, make sure it’s a balanced evaluation that considers everything.
With a social media background check, you’ll be able to determine many different things about an applicant’s skills. Maybe you’ve uncovered a well-written blog article on a candidate’s LinkedIn profile highlighting excellent communication skills. Perhaps a YouTube channel focuses on a few complex subjects broken down in easy-to-understand tactics. These skills may benefit your company without having to ask for them subjectively.
How to Run a Professional Social Media Screening
While traditional search efforts might require a lot of sleuthing, social media profiles are often indexed on search engines like Google. Social media accounts are usually available for everyone to see, whether personal or professional accounts.
It’s always a good idea to start your social media on a search engine like Google. Start by entering the candidate’s name into a popular search engine and see what pops up automatically. When you see links to various social media profiles, visit each link and see what you discover. Use caution when browsing these profiles, as other people may share the same name as the applicant.
Remain Consistent in Your Search
If you’re conducting a social media background check, always remain consistent. Try not to be selective in your search, checking all applicants or none of the applicants. Make social media reviews a part of the official policy to cover your company. For instance, the procedure may incorporate all social media accounts when hiring management or top-level position. Not only will this alleviate any bias in your hiring decision, but it will also make the hiring process more equitable.
Always Wait Until the End of Your Hiring Process
To prevent legal ramifications, it’s always best to perform social media checks at the end of the hiring process. Never review someone’s social media pages until the interviews and resume confirmation is finished. If someone doesn’t have the proper qualifications or experience, there’s no point in reviewing their social media footprint.
Wait until all applicants receive their interview and contingent offer of employment before running the scans. That way, no one can claim discrimination based on their social media status online.
Always Exclude Access from the Hiring Manager
Any individual supervising a candidate isn’t the ideal person for performing the social media background check. These individuals aren’t trained on what can be considered and what can’t. You’ll need to avoid unconscious bias from creeping into your hiring decisions. Excluding the hiring manager from any check is the easiest way.
Only Review Public Pages
Only publicly accessible pages should be considered in the review process, meaning asking a candidate for private access or passwords is illegal. This request is banned in over 20 states, significantly influencing professional trust.
Build Out Strict Guidelines
When you’ve decided to hire a professional firm, give them specific details about the information you’d like to receive. This way, the outside company will know exactly what information you want to exclude from the search. For instance, most third-party companies will avoid any medical or personal information in the report, but some may include these details as a default option. As such, it’s always best to communicate you don’t want these details included before receiving the report.
Inform All Employees and Prospective Hires of the Search
Federal law demands that employers must give notice to all job seekers if they plan to do a background check on them. However, there isn’t a lot of clarity available for the specific details that must be included when running a social media background check. To remain ethical, always let a prospective employee know this will be part of the information you’re reviewing.
Always Leave the Screening Process to the Professionals
If you’re conducting your social media background checks, there’s a fine line between thorough investigation and potential legal consequences. To properly perform a scan, you’ll need to comprehensively understand the law as it applies to your state. Forgoing this understanding could put you at risk of being sued for discrimination. Hiring a professional company can save you the stress and aggravation without giving up the insight these screenings offer employers offer.
How to Run a Social Media Screening on Yourself
While you may believe you have social media pages secure and private, it’s always worth a second look if your professional career is at stake. Consider the following steps to prepare your information for a professional evaluation to ensure anything discovered won’t hamper your efforts.
Perform a Search Engine Sweep
One of the easiest ways to determine discoverable information online is with a search engine. This method is not only time-efficient, but it’s also likely the first step employers are going to use when searching for your details online. To start, open a web browser under private browsing (commonly called “incognito”) and go to Google or another popular search engine. Private browsing can avoid biased search results from filtering, giving an unbiased view online. From there, any results would be the same as a third-party search.
Should any adverse information or images appear under the Google search, you’ll need to act on it to remove them. When a website holds private information about you, contact them directly to remove it. In some situations, you’ll need to take legal action against the domain owner to prompt the removal of private images or details. Many private companies are available for scrubbing your information online, providing another option to clear your online activity.
Look Through Social Media Pages
For many people, social media profiles are some of the first results to appear on search engines. For example, let’s assume that the first result to appear on a search engine is Google or another search engine. When your current social media activity spans LinkedIn and Facebook, you may be surprised to uncover an old Myspace account from 2004 that remains active (including photos from your teen years).
A quick Google search will pull up all social media pages attached with your name. By viewing the pages as an “outsider,” you’ll be able to determine what’s available to the public. Unfortunately, a few social media platforms, like Snapchat and Facebook) that will require you to log in to view the content on the network.
Viewing a Profile Publicly
Many platforms will allow users to view a page as a public account or another person. This situation is most beneficial when an anonymous browser doesn’t allow public viewing of accounts. Considering the profile from another perspective in these networks may offer additional feedback. Remove any offensive or questionable activity, if needed.
How to Prepare Your Social Media Accounts for a Professional Job Search
Nowadays, there’s more to a job search than simply printing out resumes. In a digital era, cleaning your online presence is also critical to your job hunt. Here’s how to prepare your digital footprint for employment screening after discovering the information online.
Always Maintain a Consistent and Professional Profile Picture
What is the first image your prospective employers find online when viewing various social media pages? Is the image a profile shot of your dog? Maybe you’ve got a photo from your college drinking days?
Always consider the professionalism of your profile picture, swapping the image for an alternative as necessary. Ideally, all social media profile pictures should focus on you individually. All social media profiles should remain consistent, making yourself recognizable.
According to industry experts, an ideal profile photo will also include the following details:
- Professional office casual business attire
- Smiling and showing your teeth in the photo
- Include your head and shoulders in the image
Pay Attention to What You Post
Generally speaking, most employers seek poised and competent professionals to join their company. If your social media accounts don’t match these ideals, edit the data stream to match the industry you’re hoping to join. For instance, posting images of you and your friends at social events or parties may seem innocent, but landing a managerial-level job at a financial institution may require some censoring.
To take it a few steps further, follow these guidelines for any social media posting:
- Always limit the information other people can post to your profile, stream, or page. The opinions of others can significantly influence how prospective employers see you, unintentionally giving them the wrong idea. Consider removing any friends who post inappropriate or offensive content as well.
- Avoid anything considered controversial, insensitive, or divisive online. These include any images or texts that could be misinterpreted. Anything thought a “hot topic” like religion, politics, or other similar issues should also stay off your social media profile.
- Refrain from posting anything about your previous employer or coworkers, especially negative details about your position. Make sure you keep all social media posts positive, keeping from any information about your last boss. Professionalism is a top priority online.
Always Post the Right Information Online
One of the key reasons a company searches for potential applicants online is to assess the possible fit within the organization. A prospective employer may scan LinkedIn to see if any connections have endorsed your skills or experience. The hiring manager may read through recent Facebook posts to determine how you present and communicate online.
Regardless of the role they’re hoping to fill, an organization is seeking qualified candidates for their positions. Although most applicants will share applicable skills and qualifications directly, it may also help to add each of these items to your social media profile.
Knowing the Power of Posting Online
Every social media account is different; knowing how to capitalize on these networks can make a professional difference in your job hunt. For example, Twitter allows short phrases on your profile that can suggest professional strengths. Alternatively, anyone working within social media or marketing may benefit from #hashtags on Instagram.
Making the right choices before hitting the share button will improve the odds of landing your next job and passing the employer’s pre-screening qualification.
Always Show Your Experience
While the traditional approach to social media is simply adding friends and family, many networks also have a professional appeal. LinkedIn is a clear example of professional networking, but many other social media channels offer the same appeal. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are excellent options for self-promotion online.
Highlighting your professional expertise through social media can help employers identify qualified candidates and help applicants land the correct positions. What you decide to share will vary significantly depending on the industry or desired career. Individuals working within the creative realm may want to establish an online portfolio, sharing digital art samples or visual media. People working in the sales industry may find boasting quarterly achievements a better approach. Knowing how to publish your professional accomplishments can keep prospective employers satisfied regardless of what you share online.
Other Key Areas of Background Checks to Consider
Although social media is one of the employers’ first methods to uncover information about prospective applicants, it isn’t the only method to source information about you online. Always consider that most companies will perform a thorough and comprehensive background check before extending an employment offer.
Survey All Public Records and Receive Answers
With a traditional background check, you should always have complete answers for any discrepancies or details within the history of the public record. If you were previously in a court case, the components might appear online or in public documents regardless of the outcome. Many areas show court records free of cost, whether in person or online. Look up your name and determine which judgments are available against you.
Pay Off All Traffic Debts
While these tickets and infractions may seem inconsequential and harmless, holding several unpaid fines or tickets can negatively impact your employment opportunities. Currently, no law states that a company can refuse to hire you if you carry some debt. Unfortunately, many financial and managerial positions require spotless background checks for liability reasons. Paying off all debts, including traffic tickets, can increase your odds of passing the background check with a company. If anything else, it shows potential employers that you handle your accounts seriously and takes care of business when needed.
Look Into Your Credit
Many professional roles don’t require decent credit as a prerequisite for employment. Occasionally, those jobs within casinos, banks, or credit lending facilities, require a clean credit report to extend an offer of employment. Individuals facing significant debt may become disqualified from future positions within the company.
According to the FTC, users can obtain a free credit report every twelve months. Alternatively, an individual can get their report and credit score from the bank. Many phone applications or online services will offer free credit reports too.
Review Your Criminal History
Virtually every employer will run a criminal background check on a prospective employee. Although individual background checks will vary on the information included, most criminal checks will consist of any prior misdemeanors, felony convictions, arrests, or incarceration. A prospective employer will also run your information against various federal databases, including the National Sex Offender Registry.
Juvenile and sealed records are typically not included in the background screening, but it’s always better to confirm this before applying for a position. Although a criminal record may not automatically disqualify you from a position within the company, it can limit the opportunities depending on the type of charge.
How to Survive a Background Check as a Job Seeker
For most people, a background screening is more than a formal confirmation of previous experience. The background check will confirm personal identification, credit history, criminal records, and social media backgrounds. Some screening companies will include copies of your driver’s history, mainly if the position requires a vehicle or driving.
Always run a few checks on your details to ensure everything is reporting accurately and promptly dispute anything incorrect. By being honest and forthcoming, you’ll lessen the probability of encountering problems with your employer. Between diligence in monitoring your information online and disclosing relevant details to your prospective employer, you’ll find the social media screening a simple part of the background check. Remain diligent about the information you share online and anyone who may come across it in the future.