One trend in the world of HR right now is that employers are using social media to look up the people applying to their workplaces. For years now we’ve been telling our HR Community that there are intrinsic issues with doing so. The prevailing thinking is that it gives you the chance to see if the person you are thinking about hiring is “normal”? but the problem is, you may also or only come up with things that you don’t want to find. Listen to Jennie McLaughlin and CeCe Wilson in this week’s episode to hear why we advocate against this practice.
Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems.
Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want.
CeCe: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! I’m CeCe Wilson and I’m the head of HR here at CEDR and I’m here today with Jennie McLaughlin, the head of our compliance and member-facing teams. All right, so today we’re going to talk about using social media in candidate screenings.
Jennie: Sounds like a great idea.
CeCe: Not so much. [laughing]
Jennie: No [laughing] No.
CeCe: So I actually i’m part of some HR groups online, and I had come across a post where an HR professional is asking other people for their opinion because their senior leadership at their company had asked them to start screening all candidates looking through all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, that sort of thing, before they even presented the resumes to managers.
Jennie: Wait. So looking at literally everyone who applied?
CeCe: I think maybe screening out the first few based on experience –
Jennie: Uh hmm.
CeCe: But then anybody that this person would have normally passed their resume on to the hiring managers, they wanted them to do what they were calling a “culture check” –
CeCe: Before the managers then saw those resumes to further screen people out based on their social media.
Jennie: That does not sound like a good use of time or…Just doesn’t sound good for many reasons. I’m not sure what a “culture check” is supposed to be.
Jennie: Do you have culture? Does that…?
CeCe: Yeah. I mean, aside from the massive administrative burden that that would place on the HR staff there, I like…What are they screening for in the “culture check”? Because like, people are not exactly who they are at work –
CeCe: As they are in their personal life with their friends, right? I mean, that’s pretty normal, even in the best of cultures where you feel like you can bring your whole self, like it’s not social hour. So you’re not doing the same things at work as you are –
CeCe: On like, vacation.
Jennie: Some people use social media platforms for specific things, you know?
Jennie: For side business or promoting, you know, a charity they’re really involved in –
Jennie: Or they use it just to share news or it’s just for sharing stuff with family members.
CeCe: Uh hmm.
Jennie: So it doesn’t really, you don’t have any idea what this person is doing with their social media. And also [heavy sigh] I mean, let’s be real. We’ve all Facebook stalked the person that our girlfriend is going out with –
Jennie: To make sure he’s not a crazy person.
CeCe: Sure. Sure.
Jennie: So if you’re going to Facebook stalk every applicant and every one of their social media platforms? It takes a lot of time.
Jennie: It’s absurd! [laughing]
CeCe: Yeah. Well, and then the question I guess that I would have is, how do you even know that you have the right person? Because at this point they wouldn’t have met them.
CeCe: So it’s not like you would know what they look like. You can’t verify and go, “Oh, that’s definitely the person I saw.”
CeCe: And there’s people with even not very common names that have…There’s multiple people with that same name.
CeCe: Even within the same area. So I don’t even know how you’d be sure. So you might screen somebody out who’s a very good applicant on paper and you’re ready to invite them for an interview or move them forward, but because of the social media profile that you saw, that might not even be them?
CeCe: Now you’re screening them out. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
Jennie: It’s the same reason why we tell people not to Google their applicants and Google is not a background search –
Jennie: Background check or anything because you will find the wrong person even if you think you’re on an official website. You leave that to experts to do based on very particular information they can find that match the person. You don’t have any of that. You don’t know where this person is from. You don’t have the details to figure out you’re looking at the right person at all. And also, what are you looking for? Like, what are you judging them on? I’m not sure, because this…It’s the same thing. You know, don’t Google people.
Jennie: You’ll find the wrong person, but you’ll also find things that shouldn’t play into your hiring decision –
Jennie: At all.
Jennie: You know, if you see that all of their pictures are all with tons of kids, then maybe you’re thinking like, “Oh, they have huge child care responsibilities.”
Jennie: And as much as we’d like to think that doesn’t play into any hiring decision, you know, it could even implicitly. And maybe those are all their nieces and nephews.
Jennie: First of all, they might not even be a parent, but if they are a parent –
CeCe: Or maybe they have a great support system and they’ll never need to mop or –
Jennie: [laughing] Right?
CeCe: Yeah. I mean…
Jennie: Their mom lives with them and takes care of the kids and so it’s never actually going to be a problem or you see something they posted on social about trying to get pregnant and now you’re worried that they’re going to need leave right away. And sure, that’s a legitimate concern, I understand, but it’s illegal to consider that when you’re hiring someone.
CeCe: Right? Or you know, I think another thing that I’ve seen is people say, “Oh, that person has a visible disability and I don’t want to go through the pain and trouble of trying to accommodate it.” But they may not even need an accommodation.
CeCe: I mean, you can’t presume what somebody’s needs might be –
CeCe: Once they come to work for you.
Jennie: Yeah. And especially it’s…Like there’s no list of medical conditions that are considered disabilities under the employment laws. It’s whether something is disabling to that person and whether it impacts their work and if they need an accommodation and not everybody does.
Jenny: So it might not be relevant or you may see them posting about cancer all the time.
CeCe: Uh hmm.
Jennie: And it’s because they have, their best friend has breast cancer –
Jennie: And they’re really into, you know, promoting donations to that cause and things and has nothing to do with them. But you go into it thinking this is someone who might need time off from work, and that’s really unfair to them.
CeCe: Yeah. Or even just as an example, I have an Instagram account. I don’t use it anymore. The last profile picture on there is from when my daughter was an infant.
CeCe: She’s eight years old now. [laughing] And so, I mean, the conclusions that somebody would draw if they looked up my Instagram might be that I have a very young baby to care for, which is not the case. But also since I don’t use that account anymore, which now I’m thinking I should probably do something like formally close it –
CeCe: But somebody could have hacked it and be posting things as me –
CeCe: And I wouldn’t actually even know right now. And they could post all sorts of horrible things. [laughing]
Jennie: They could.
CeCe: And I’m not even aware. So…
Jennie: Yeah. I’m…Obviously we’re talking out all the negatives, but I’m trying to, I’m trying to go on this employer side and think of what is the benefit of looking? Like why are they wanting to do this? I’m honestly at a loss.
CeCe: The only semi reasonable one that I can think of is perhaps looking at LinkedIn because that’s what LinkedIn is for.
CeCe: Right? It’s a professional space. I think there’s still things that you could learn on there that might create some bias that would be a problem. But I think sometimes people like to go to LinkedIn to compare it to the resume and look for continuity. Are they the same?
CeCe: But again, it’s…LinkedIn is not, it’s not like a contract. You don’t have to…People use it to advertise or for all sorts of different reasons, and so it might look different than their resume, but that doesn’t necessarily mean one is false or –
CeCe: Or that they’re trying to misrepresent something and they might just, again, not be using it anymore.
Jennie: Yeah! Yeah, they might not and I mean, I could see some employers with good intentions at heart, wanting to see you to make sure maybe someone isn’t posting things they consider problematic.
Jennie: But even that, there’s a lot of assumptions there and things that aren’t okay to consider under the law and also things that you know, you may lose your best candidate because of an assumption you made about them or because you’ve decided you really like this person and she posts all of these quotes from the Bible every day.
CeCe: Uh hmm.
Jennie: She sounds like a great addition to your team because you’re also really religious.
Jennie: Maybe it turns out she’s just doing that to pacify her super religious mom.
Jennie: Doesn’t actually care about it or the one that you passed up because she’s the one who’s always posting like cool tattoo designs is actually, you know, the best person at insurance verification in the entire area.
Jennie: And you passed her over because of something you saw on social media that made you lean a certain way.
CeCe: Yeah. And they might be more than willing to cover up those tattoos if that’s what is required in your workplace. I mean, there’s a lot of things that I think people may have like an ideal or a personal opinion about, that they realize is not appropriate or something that they’re going to share or be really open about in the workplace. People kind of know where they need to be a little bit more guarded and so just because they’re going out with their friends and, you know, they like their fancy nails or they like to dress a certain way out there does not mean that they’re going to try to be like that in your workplace.
Jennie: Yeah. Yeah. People…I mean, I’ve known people who…I remember seeing a friend like right after work, we got a drink and it was bizarre to me.
Jennie: I mean, he looked like a different person and he’s like, “This is how I dress for work.”
Jennie: It’s like, okay. And he was amazing at his job, and I think he has a great personality and personal style and all that, but he’s like, “This is what I do at work because this is what’s considered professional.” And it’s like, okay. If I had met with him after he had a chance to go home and change, he would have been wearing something much more flamboyant and interesting, in my opinion, than the plaid button up shirt.
Jennie: But, you know, people know how to present themselves at work or even if they have personal biases, political views, anything, they don’t necessarily bring that to the workplace. So social media really isn’t part of what makes them a good candidate for the job or not.
CeCe: Yeah, and I guess it might be different if they’re advertising these things on their resume because they’ve submitted that to you –
Jennie: Uh hmm.
CeCe: As you know, this is representing me for this position. And so maybe some of those things, if they’re, you know, writing Bible verses on their resume or something like that –
CeCe: Then that’s maybe a little bit different situation than stalking in their social media and uncovering that stuff. But yeah, I can’t really think of what you’re going to accomplish that’s positive about going through people’s social media with all of the unknowns.
Jennie: Yeah. I think it just raises questions no matter what you’re seeing, and you have to make a lot of presumptions and I feel like hiring is already hard enough.
Jennie: This is just adding an unnecessary wrinkle to it.
CeCe: I think I’ve seen on, maybe on Reddit? Or an HR Facebook group? Where some employers are requiring people to put in their social media handles –
Jennie: Mmm Yeah.
CeCe: On Facebook or LinkedIn as part of the application and they’re required fields and if people do not provide that, then they will not move forward with them because they think they’re hiding it from them.
CeCe: But I mean, some people just don’t use social media.
Jennie: They don’t use it. Yeah. Or like you, you have an Instagram, but you haven’t touched it for years.
Jennie: So what’s the point? You probably don’t even know what your Instagram handle is.
CeCe: I do not! I do not. But I would…So in that case, I don’t even know what the, maybe the assumption is that they’re not computer savvy? Or…
CeCe: It’s a very odd requirement for a job application.
Jennie: Yeah. Yeah. That doesn’t make any logical sense. And that’s also just a barrier to people applying, because if I saw that, I wouldn’t apply there –
CeCe: Uh hmm.
Jennie: Because I would think that’s odd.
Jennie: Invasive and I don’t want to have to go think about what you’re going to see or I’m not catering my social media to a potential employer. I barely post anything on social media.
CeCe: Uh huh.
Jennie: So I mean, the last thing on there could have been…I don’t even know. Probably a picture of my dog from six months ago.
Jennie: I mean, I guess unless you’re a cat person, that’s a good thing? I don’t know.
Jennie: But that’s another way to deter people from applying to a job, who might be a great employee who just happens to not like using social media.
CeCe: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s a lot of people who don’t, for privacy reasons or because social media, there are so many people who would say things they would never say in person –
Jennie: Uh hmm.
CeCe: But they’ll say them online and so for some people, it’s just a very negative space.
Jennie: And I know some like super, super tech savvy people who don’t use it because they’re concerned about the privacy of it all.
Jennie: So you actually could be losing someone who’s really smart.
CeCe: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, my husband, I think he’s like on Reddit sometimes now, but he deleted his Facebook, but he’s an engineer.
CeCe: He does like 3D drafting and stuff all day. So definitely computer savvy but just does not like social media. So.
Jennie: Yeah. Well, I don’t think we should add this to our hiring practices.
CeCe: No, I don’t think so. I can’t find the reward that’s big enough to outweigh all of the risks and –
CeCe: And the burden of it.
Jennie: Yeah. No, doesn’t sound like a good idea. So and also, yeah, just so much work the way this employer was doing it because even with running a background check, we tell people, “Don’t do it until you’ve selected your candidate.”
Jennie: Because it takes time, it takes money. It’s a lot of stuff. Like why would you do that unless you’re prepared to hire that person?
Jennie: So we don’t run a background check until we’ve extended an offer to someone. And I know there are people who, employers out there, who like to run a check on like all of their top applicants or everybody because they think that way they’re weeding people out first but because of the way that works, it just doesn’t make sense.
CeCe: Uh hmm.
Jennie: It should be just a final check.
Jennie: You know, and that’s it. And so pulling social media into it just, I mean, that’s just an even more intense process because also it’s not objective at all. You know, with a background check through a professional company, you’re looking for very objective things that you’re allowed to look at under the law. Someone else is professionally screening it. Social media, there’s nothing objective about looking at that. So it’s totally based on whatever the person who’s viewing it happens to think of it.
Jennie: Which also in this case wasn’t even the hiring manager.
CeCe: No! No.
Jennie: So it’s based on what, the HR person?
Jennie: Like, I just, I don’t –
CeCe: The recruiter? I don’t know –
Jennie: I don’t know what to do with that.
CeCe: How large the organization was, but…Yeah, I don’t either because, yeah, at that point, they’re not evaluating for fit within necessarily a specific team.
CeCe: So that leads me to believe that there’s probably some sort of, kind of more nefarious things that they’re trying to weed out –
Jennie: Uh hmm.
CeCe: But unfortunately, this advice is out there. I mean, there’s like that ‘Ask A Manager’ blog –
CeCe: That people kind of rave about and lean on and there is a blog about social media checks. And I think within that blog, it says that either you are doing social media checks or you don’t know what you’re doing.
Jennie: Oh gosh!
CeCe: So implying people are not doing social media checks are not effective at hiring. And so with that kind of sentiment out there, there are probably people who are who are listening to this and going, “Well, I actually have a really good reason and I wish that I could call you right now and tell you,” but unfortunately, this is prerecorded.
CeCe: But for those people, there are ways you can still get this information. If you’ve got some really good reason why you’re doing social media checks, you can work that into your interview questions.
CeCe: I mean, if there’s an actual, legitimate piece of information that affects somebody being successful in this job that you’re finding on social media, you can just replace that with asking the right questions in an interview
Jennie: Yeah. Yeah. I think, yeah. If there is a real reason that you are looking, it’s really…Step back and think about it because if there is something you’re looking for and the person doesn’t have social media or they’re not using it the way that would help, like how are you getting that piece of information? If that piece of information is so important, social media probably isn’t the sole place you should be looking for it.
Jennie: So there’s a different way to go about doing that. So if you are a CEDR member and you’re listening and you’ve been doing social media checks or there’s something about it that’s interesting to you, you know, contact our team at the Solution Center and we can try to come up with a good way to go about getting that information for you.
CeCe: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, I think that’s it for this episode.
CeCe: Thanks, Jennie!
Jennie: Thanks, CeCe!
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