Should You Check Social Media Accounts Before Hiring?

Saxon Marsden-Huggins, Founder, Recruit Shop

This article appears in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

Starting a business can be difficult, especially at first. You’re dealing with a smaller budget and less room for error, and so every decision you make can affect how successful you are in the first five years.

Perhaps no decision is as important as who you hire. It’s imperative that you hire the best, because your employees are going to be your largest investment and the ones that are expected to bring the best return.

How to make the best hiring decisions

In order to recruit the best talents, you need information. The traditional recruitment process (resumes/CVs and in-person interviews) are a prime example of this. You get data on the candidates from their resume, and learn about them as a person through the interview.

But is that enough information?

Resumes and interviews are heavily edited information. Candidates only put their best histories on their resumes and, thanks to the internet, prepare thoroughly for job interviews long before they step foot in the door. While these are still important parts of recruitment, relying on them alone will not necessarily net you the best candidate. It’s up to you to figure out how to learn more about the candidate. Asking better questions is a good start. You can also request that applicants fill out answers to specific questions up front with their applications, rather than rely on a resume alone. But you’re still getting an edited version of who the candidate really is.

The newest trend: Social Media browsing

With so much ‘edited’ information out there, employers are forced to look for other ways to find out about candidates, and many of them are seeking out the applicant’s social media profiles. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, employers are finding ways to access candidate social media accounts, and with those social media profiles comes a wealth of private, interesting information that can tell you a lot about an applicant.

Social Media is there – but should you use it?

Of course, just because something is available doesn’t mean you should use it. There are benefits and weaknesses to looking at a candidate’s social media accounts, and you should be well aware of these pros and cons before you decide to look at candidate’s social media:


• Unedited information

Clearly the greatest benefit to looking at social media accounts is that it could be filled with unedited information about the candidate. It’s so hard to get a real look at the candidate from the information they submit to you willingly, so unedited information has the potential to reveal a lot more.

• Professionalism privately and publically

Of course, we say ‘could be filled with unedited information’ because savvy candidates know that some employers look at social media accounts, and they clean them up. While you may not learn as much about these candidates personally, you learn a lot about the character of someone that is smart enough to clean up their social media profile before you look at it, and what they choose to share there.

• Attitude

Studies have consistently shown that positivity is one of the most important features of a productive employee (and one that you want to work with 40 hours a week), and social media is where candidates tend to unleash their attitude the most. You want someone working for you that is upbeat, complimentary, and doesn’t focus solely on the negative. Viewing a candidate’s social media account is one way to get this information.

• Other

You’ll also be able to see if the applicant is committed to the field, whether or not they post during work hours, and more. There is a lot of information you can glean from looking at a candidate’s social media profile.


• Introduction of biases

The most problematic issue is the introduction of biases, both positive and negative, as a result of viewing someone’s personal information. For example, you may be more or less inclined to hire a beautiful female candidate, or avoid a candidate of a certain race or age. The problem here is not some type of overt bias. The problem is that everyone has some biases even if they don’t realise it, and as soon as you see a person’s personal life you’re seeing those biases come into play.

• Relevance

One of the problems that employers have when they look at personal information on social media is deciding what is actually relevant and what is not. For example, a picture of a male at a bar with friends is probably not relevant to whether they can hold a job. A post about how much drugs they do probably is. For many, this is hard to decipher, because you are hiring a personality, not just a worker, and you want to make sure that personality fits into your workplace.

But you also have to make sure that the criteria you use to judge them is only what will affect you professionally. Political beliefs, love of hunting, affinity for wine, or interest in World of Warcraft will have very little to no effect on the workplace, and unfortunately when you look at a candidate’s social media account it’s not uncommon to be tempted into believing this information matters.

• Legal and ethical issues

Finally, there are potential legal and/or ethics violations that may occur if you happen across an applicant’s profile and the candidate finds out. While there is nothing inherently illegal about looking up a candidate’s social media, it is problematic if the applicant finds out and believes that the reason they were not hired was because of their race, gender, etc. One of the easiest ways to avoid these ethical issues is by simply not looking at all.

How to look at Social Media correctly

If you are going to research a candidate’s social media account, consider the following ideas:

• Limit to professional social networks

If possible, try to limit yourself to professional social networks, like LinkedIn. These are still going to be edited, but they provide you with information that the candidate may not have shared directly, while the candidate’s true personal life isn’t being impeded.

• Look for reason to hire, not exclude

Assuming the temptation is too strong or you are desperate for new information, make sure you use social media as a reason to hire people, not to exclude people. In other words, try to ignore any personal information you don’t like, and look for information that makes you want to hire them.

• Use a third party

Another strategy you can try is to use a third party. Have someone look at the candidate for you, and have them answer only the questions that you ask. This way you won’t be able to see the applicant’s photos, or personal information that isn’t necessarily something that should affect the hiring process. Have specific questions the third party should find and answer (for example, ‘does the candidate show a clear grasp of spelling and grammar?’ and ‘does the candidate share information related to the industry?’) so that you’re only receiving the information that should play a role in the hiring process.

Above all else, however, just make sure that their social media is only a small part of the puzzle, and that you have a way to judge applicants that isn’t based only on their personal lives. Social media is information, and its information that the applicant shares willingly in public. But it’s also only tangentially related to the workplace, and should be a part of the overall picture, not something that influences you too strongly.

Saxon Marsden-Huggins founded Recruit Shop in 2011 with partners Employment Office and Flight Centre.Born and schooled in Zimbabwe, in 2006 Saxon founded a not-for-profit overland expedition organisation travelling 50,000 km from London to Cape Town through more than 30 African countries. Saxon has an MBA from UQ, is a member of the Entrepreneurs Organisation and is now based in Sydney.

Recruit Shop is Australia and New Zealand’s best priced recruitment agency providing low cost recruitment solutions to small and franchise businesses in any industry and location throughout Australia & New Zealand.

P: 1300 411 740