Are You Performing Social Media Background Checks?

social media for background checksJob seekers aren’t the only people becoming well-versed in social media. So are their employers. A recent study from Harris Interactive discovered that 45 percent of employers are now using social media to screen potential job candidates, more than double than last year’s 22 percent.

Even more alarming? According to the study, 35 percent of employers have decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the results of that social media background check. How’s that for a recession bonus?

It can seem harsh and like employers are being unfair on new prospects, but there’s good reason for SMB owners to be weary. With the rise of social media, it’s more likely than ever that a customer will encounter your employees online or that they’ll be representing your company to the world when you’re not looking. Sometimes protecting your business means not handing a loaded gun to someone who may blow a hole right through it. In the world of Twitter, would you trust an intern with your brand knowing they had a history of being quick lipped on their Facebook wall or berating old employers?

As nearly half of all employers have figured out, sometimes the best way to find out how a potential employee will represent themselves online is through a quick Google and social media background check.

There are plenty of sites to check out, so where do you start? Twitter, as it will often give you the most complete picture. After that – Facebook. As a small business owner, most of your potential job candidates will be local. That means they’ll probably be located in your home “network” so you’ll have default permission to access their profile without having to Friend them. Just do a search for their name and you’ll immediately have access to their photos, personal and school information, and, of course, their Facebook wall.

You should also check to see if the candidate has a LinkedIn Profile, MySpace or even a Flickr or YouTube account.

Now, before you go crazy searching their underwear drawer, realize that we were all kids once. A few pictures of a perfectly good candidate holding a beer or a “subtle” big red plastic cup probably won’t hurt your company too badly. However, there are immediate red flags you should be looking for while doing background checks.

Things like:

  • Employees who badmouth their previous employers
  • Excessive Twittering or social media activity while on the clock
  • Suggestive pictures
  • Lying about qualifications, where they went to school, job history, etc.
  • Obvious drug use
  • Comments containing racial slurs and other offensive language

But that’s only the bad. When you’re doing social media checks, also look for the candidate who has taken the time to optimize their search results and make sure that their best foot was showing when a potential employer searched for their name. It may show initiative or at least that they’re paying attention.

You may also spot some “red flags” that can be turned into positives. Like a candidate who obviously has a flair for social networking as they spent the bulk of their day at their last job Twittering. Perhaps that’s something you could (monitor and) work into their day to better your own goals and social media presence.

Social media provides small business owners and employers with a quick way to sniff out prospective employees. It can not only help you scout out red flags, but alert you to candidates and job qualifications you didn’t even know existed. If anything, it’ll give you something interesting to talk about during their interview.

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Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

17 Reactions
  1. Lisa,

    I am glad that you pointed out the positive things with background checks, using social media sites. Recently I have read several articles and blog posts on the “big brother” attitude by companies, checking out potential employees. It is important to understand that it is a two street. A job seeker could also check out the company in different ways, e.g., what the customers are saying about the company, what are the personnel at the HR department doing in their spare time, etc.

    You should practice a net etiquette that is compatible with that you do “IRL” (“in real life”), due to the fact that the conversations on the internet are part of your daily worklife.

  2. Checking someone’s social media profiles gives you a really good idea of their basic character. You get a sneak peek into who they really are when they don’t think their being watched. It can and will work both ways, sometimes you’ll find good and sometimes you’ll find bad.

  3. First off, anyone using social media today should aware that everything you say on social sites could potentially be used against you. Take caution with what you put out there (and maybe you could make some lifestyle adjustments too).

    I also agree with Martin that social media background checks can also turn up potential abilities that you may not have found out about otherwise. With today’s penny-pinching you could get a customer service rep who mans a phone and can monitor Twitter too. Look on the bright side!

  4. When you’re checking on job applicants also make sure you’re looking at the right person. I know this sounds simple, but if you look up “Beth Robinson” on Facebook there are LOTS of us. And that’s assuming you remember I asked you to call me Beth and don’t look for the Elizabeth Robinson on my resume. There’s lots of those too.

    I’ve done things like use the same picture everywhere and put my central website on my resume and there are things you can search for so you’ll KNOW it’s me. But not everyone’s profile will be set up that way and if your job applicant has even a reasonably common name there could be two in the same city that aren’t using easily identifiable photos, etcetera.

  5. Hi Lisa
    I like the positive attributes you remind folks to look for. If an employer makes a decision based on a photo of a person with a beer, you probably don’t want to work for that person anyway. IMHO.

    This post by Jay Shepherd at Gruntled Employees is a good read. You may find some things that agree with yours. Thanks.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    Great tips on the various places to check and what these sites can tell us about a prospective employee. Best also made a good comment about making sure you are checking the right person especially if they have a common name.

  7. There is always a need to have recommendations when searching for the ideal candidate. However information can be misleading at times it only gives an impression of the persons ability.

  8. Potential employers or employers can’t see someone’s profile information if the person’s settings is set to be viewed by friends only. I personally wouldn’t go snooping online to see what dirt I can find on someone I was going to hire. I belong to a social network with some people who like to go out to clubs and bars. I feel confident enough to hire a number of them even though they like to have a good time, drink, and have stupid pictures of them posted; These individuals are able to keep their personal life separate from work. I hear my friends talking about their jobs; they are successful and hardworking. It really is quite an invasion to be meddling in someone’s personal life; it’s almost like being in a communist country or with big brother watching. I am careful what I post because I have my neices and a co-worker as a friend. Regardless, I would never bad mouth anyone on those sites nor would I post nude shots which is against the rules regardless of who sees.

  9. Penny Feigel, IAC-EZ

    Not just snooping but you can get to know your co-workers better, and what interests them – you may have things in common you never knew.

    As a parent, there’s nothing like a MySpace page to let you know who your child is talking to, and what they are like. (the boy who asked out your daughter)

    Social Media allows a peek at information that we may have never known. And, if it’s posted to the internet for all the world to see, it’s not private.

  10. I like to keep my personal life separate from work. I only added my co-worker to my social media because she truly is a friend. I would not invite my boss or other co-workers to be added as a friend. Ultimately at work you are there to work. It’s not a good idea to share too much information as to maintain a certain level of professionalism and to cut down on office gossip.

    If I type in my name from someone else’s account, only whatever information I want to be revealed will show up to those who are not added as a friend. Sure some may know how to get around that but there are better ways to determine someone’s work ethics such as criminal background checks, references, and an interview.

  11. Seriously, i never really knew that we need to check the social media background also.. they really are helping a lot in my campaigns now!

  12. Surely this is infringing on the employee rights. I have heard so many horror stories from checking out social network sites of potential employees and employees already employed by the company!

  13. Keep hearing so many bad stories about employers checking up on their present employees and to me it sounds like big brother is watching you.

    Interesting article!

  14. Your own personal Social Site is just that – Social! And it would be an infringement of your personal ‘out of work’ activity if your boss was stalking your profile to find things out about you.

    Maybe some type of legislation that eople should click to accept when coming onto the website to say that any information found cannot be used against their employees!

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