president, USA Express legal and investigative services and secure background check. Certified private investigator.
Picture this: You had an argument on social media with a stranger about the hot button issue of the day three months ago. You were provoked because you thought the other poster was such a jerk, and you had to stand your ground. You didn’t even care that much about the subject (what was it again?), but someone had to straighten that person out. You didn’t like the way you behaved, but the comments are buried under millions of new posts and are now forgotten anyway, so who cares, right?
Well, maybe someone. And that someone might be your next potential employer.
As president of a company that provides pre-employment screenings for clients, my job is to find everything I can about a candidate through their social media. I don’t make decisions for clients; I’m just passing on the information. Through this experience, I find that hiring managers are more likely to conduct background checks that go beyond criminal and public records and employment history. And a candidate’s furious, aggressive and potentially threatening messages are what many look forward to.
Social media screenings are not new, but they are catching on with more employers. A 2020 survey of hiring decision-makers, commissioned by Express Employment Professionals, found that: 70% of respondents believe that companies should screen potential candidates’ social media profiles when they are considered for a position, and 67% of them already do.
Those decision makers check Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, and more — every place a candidate may have posted a message that could raise a red flag. As a job seeker, you may have provided consent when you checked a box online or on your paper application. And even if you didn’t, statements on public forums, including social media, are fair game. Screenings can range from simply viewing content that is available to the public to in-depth searches of posts you’ve posted on social media in the past six months (even the posts you’ve deleted).
A CareerBuilder survey found that: 57% of employers found social content that caused them to exclude a candidate. What can someone exclude? Some of it is obvious, based on my experience: patterns of overt anger, suggestions of violence, associations with questionable characters, signs of abusive behavior, or even too many political positions. I’ve seen a post considered mild or mainstream can throw a resume in the trash.
Getting into trouble with a social media post on the employment side isn’t limited to looking for a job. In June, the Washington Post fired a reporter for a days-long Twitter dispute involving another reporter who had himself been banned for a month for an unsavory posting.
I’ve seen that legal issues can also lead to a closer look at a person’s social media. The most obvious blunders are those where a person is caught in a fraud situation, such as posting a photo of himself waterskiing when he should be in bed at home to collect benefits from employees, for example.
All of this doesn’t mean you have to close your social media accounts if you want to get or keep a job. On the contrary, the Express Employment Professionals survey also found that 21% of respondents said they would likely exclude a candidate who does not have a social media presence.
I agree with those employers who say that social media is important when viewing applicants. At my company, which currently employs about 28 people in peaceful harmony, I make it a point to check the social media accounts of potential employees. I seek out and exclude those who post extremely negative content, always complain or are angry with everyone. Personally, I also don’t want to see a candidate make a lot of political posts out of concern that they won’t keep their opinions private in the office. I tell each candidate during the second interview that political discussions are not allowed at work, and I even wrote it in the employee handbook.
As an employer, it’s all about eliminating potential risks. For this reason, I recommend that clients also take a look at current employees’ social media accounts – a practice I do myself. What they do now in their private time is their own business, and I don’t believe that an unwanted message on social media is a reason to let someone go. But I do believe it’s good to know what’s going on in employees’ lives through their postings. If their social media disclosures don’t impact their performance or raise issues with coworkers, they probably won’t be a problem in the workplace.
In this industry, I am always amazed at what people post and the hiring practices of employers. But social media has become an incredible resource that can bring out the best or the worst in someone. Use it to the fullest to find — and be — the first, whichever side of the search you’re on.