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Using Social Media to Recruit Employees? Avoid These Pitfalls

By Jay Starkman and Midge Seltzer

Social media continues to play an expanding role in the way new hires are recruited. Two issues in particular make social media use attractive to recruiters: the ability to capture a lot of eyeballs by advertising a job on social networks and the ablity to view a job applicant's social media account(s) during the screening process.

Employers can reap substantial benefits by incorporating social media into their hiring processes, but must ensure it is utilized properly to avert legal pitfalls.

Reported in the Business Journals 


Two main issues arise during the recruitment process that make social media use tempting: advertising a job on social networks, and viewing a job applicant's social media accounts during the screening process.

Recruiting red flags

While an employer that uses social media to find applicants can considerably increase its candidate pool, not all job seekers use social media. Those at the lower end of the economic spectrum may not have access to computers, and older applicants may choose to avoid social media sites altogether.

As a result, an employer risks exposure to discrimination claims if there's reliance exclusively on social media for advertising. Also, there's a missed opportunity to identify qualified candidates from these groups. The better practice is to use social media along with more traditional recruiting methods.

Watch your screening behavior

Public social media pages offer employers a wealth of potentially useful information about applicants. Do the applicant's posts indicate he will be a team player? Does the candidate mention her illegal drug use, or post racist comments?

To date, 18 states bar employers from requiring or requesting job candidates and current employees to provide passwords, usernames or access to a social media account, which would reveal someone's private pages. Additionally, making such a request may violate the federal Stored Communications Act. Accordingly, many employers simply view the public portion of a job candidate's social media account when evaluating an applicant for a position.

However, even restricting the viewing to only public social media sites during the screening process is not without risk. For example, when accessing a candidate's social media pages, an employer will often learn whether that individual is part of a protected class (e.g., a photograph of the applicant may reveal gender, race, age and/or disability). Given that an in-person interview reveals the same information as viewing a picture on a computer, the best practice is to review social media pages after the in-person interviews.

Better strategies

To benefit from the reach of social media while minimizing the risks, a company that decides to use social media in hiring should consider adopting the following strategies:

  • Place applicants on notice that your company will review public social media postings.
  • HR professionals should conduct the social media search and limit it to information relevant to the job, and then provide the hiring manager with only job-related material.
  • Do not ask for personal passwords or try to access private social media sites, only access public profile information.
  • Be consistent. Determine what search, if any, will be performed for a given position and conduct that same search for each candidate after the in-person interviews.
  • In the event information is found that disqualifies an applicant, print and store such data since it could be useful in defending potential discrimination suits or other claims.
  • If your company uses a third party to conduct social media checks, it arguably could be considered a background check. In such a case, it is important to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and applicable state laws.