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May 20, 2015

By Eric B. Meyer

I read different surveys about social media and hiring and the numbers vary greatly.

For every survey that indicates that employers are not using social media to vet candidates, you get the one I read last night from, which reports that “52 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up significantly from 43 percent last year and 39 percent in 2013.”

I think we can harmonize these disparate survey results by distinguishing between sourcing candidates on the one hand, and then vetting candidates with a social media background check on the back end; the former being much more prevalent. I get that.

Hiring managers like friending, following candidates

But, here’s an interesting statistic from the survey of more than 2,000 full-time, U.S. hiring and human resources managers across industries and company sizes, “35 percent of employers who screen via social networks have requested to ‘be a friend’ or follow candidates that have private accounts. Of that group, 80 percent say they’ve been granted permission.”

Here, I’m going to assume that we are talking primarily about LinkedIn (versus Facebook or even Twitter).

That makes more sense, especially when you consider that the survey shows that 60 percent of those who screen candidates online are “looking for information that supports their qualifications for the job,” and “56 percent of recruiters want to see if the candidate has a professional online persona.”

What else matters when vetting a candidate?

According to the survey, the top turn-offs for employers include:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs – 46 percent;
  • Information about candidate drinking or using drugs – 40 percent;
  • Candidate bad-mouthed previous company or fellow employee – 34 percent;
  • Poor communication skills – 30 percent;
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc. – 29 percent.

Here are the things that employers liked that helped them to make a positive decision about hiring a candidate:

  • Candidate’s background information supported job qualifications –42 percent;
  • Candidate’s personality came across as a good fit with company culture – 38 percent;
  • Candidate’s site conveyed a professional image – 38 percent;
  • Candidate had great communication skills – 37 percent;
  • Candidate was creative – 36 percent.

Things to remember when vetting candidates online

  1. Don’t make a hiring decision based on protected class information. And, you can reduce the risk by quarantining as much protected-class information learned online as possible from the final decision-maker.
  2. The Fair Credit Reporting Act may apply. Indeed, it does if you have a third-party run a social media background check.
  3. Never require an applicant to “friend” connect with you. That’s just creepy. It’s also illegal in about half of the United States.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.