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Incorporating Social Media Background Screening into your Hiring Process

Updated: Dec 12, 2021

This article discusses how recruiters and hiring managers can leverage social media background screening in their hiring process.


Did you know that between 70 and 90 percent of employers in the United States incorporate some form of social media screening before they hire a candidate? While resumes, interviews and often reference checks are the staple of a recruiter’s life, social media has become an almost equally important tool for hiring. What better way to get to “know” a candidate than to review their social media posts? After all, social media was created for the sole purpose of connecting people and it has evolved to become a resume for an individual’s life. Over the past decade the share of the US population using social media has climbed from just over 50% to now almost 80% of the population. (see graphic below)

According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 3 in 10 employers have a full-time social recruiter on staff. And what the graph above shows is that even 8 years ago employers were using social media to better understand the candidates they were hiring.

In 2011, Reppler created the following survey which revealed that 47 percent of recruiters did the background verification online after receiving the job application while 27 percent waited until after they had actually spoken to the prospective employee. Fifteen percent of managers background checked after they had a detailed conversation with the candidate, while only four percent waited until just before making an offer to check the social media accounts of a prospective employee. I would suggest that employers should check out the social media profiles of your candidates as soon as you have narrowed the pool to those you wish to interview.

Where do you start and where do you look?

So you have resumes for your top 5-7 candidates, where do you start if you want to review their public social media posts? The first step is to take note of their full name, address, email, schools they attended, and their previous employers. This information will come in handy when trying to locate and associate their online persona to the proper candidate. Their online persona is often referred to as their social media profiles or handles.

I recommend starting your search with LinkedIn. Often, a candidate will provide their social media handles in their contact information on LinkedIn. And while there, you can easily review LinkedIn posts and prior employers. The next stop should be Twitter. Twitter provides a fairly advanced way to search for a person beyond using only their name. You can also enter the city in which the candidate lives or works to narrow the search.

Once you find a candidate’s Twitter account, frequently people will link this account to their Instagram account. Facebook also provides similar capabilities to Twitter by allowing a search of hometown, college, and the ability to link their Instagram account.

I suggest looking at a candidate’s posts on at least one or more of the above-mentioned social media platforms. Each serve a different audience and purpose and, in my experience what someone posts on Facebook, for instance, may be vastly different from what they may post on Twitter. If you can cover all three platforms – you should be able to get important information about your candidate.

If you wish to get a more in-depth search, you can adopt some useful tools that will aide in discovering a candidate’s social media profiles. People search tools such as FullContact and Pipl offer both free and fee based options whereby you enter a name and email address and they return a list of profiles associated with an individual. I’ve found that these tools, while comprehensive, usually miss one or more social profiles in their search results.

More recently I’ve discovered a more rigorous tool that takes the bulk of the work out of social media background screening. A new product called Ferretly allows for quick location of a candidate’s profile and the ability to run a comprehensive background search. The unique value is that Ferretly incorporates Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze all of a candidates posts and images and the system will flag any that appear problematic. Ferretly can run through the three major social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) usually in under 30 minutes. A process that manually takes hours to complete, and may not be thorough, can be cut to minutes with Ferretly, allowing you to vet more candidates and get an offer out sooner. Most importantly, this product provides what all Human Resource professionals need – consistency in the process.

What do you look for?

While every employer will have unique criteria on what social media “flags” are problematic, I suggest considering the following:

· Discriminatory comments such as hate speech or racist remarks

· Insults (including bullying and gender-oriented)

· Inappropriate photos

· Mentions of self-harm or harming others

· Mention or images of drug/alcohol abuse

· Images of violent acts or gore

· Political rants or extremism

· Confidential information or negative comments about a previous employer, boss, or colleague

Legal Considerations

Privacy advocacy groups and individuals often oppose screening the social media accounts of potential candidates and/or existing employees. As of this writing, 26 states in the US have state social media privacy laws in place that restrict an employer’s access to personal social media accounts of applicants and employees. This article refers purely to public posts. Currently state and federal social media laws do not preclude employers from reviewing public information about an applicant. This means that you can view any information on social media that is open to the general public. In fact, the FTC recently ruled that it is perfectly legal to review any candidate’s public posts in making hiring decisions.

Some of the key restrictions under state laws are:

Approximately 22 states bar employers from requesting or requiring an applicant or employee to disclose his or her social media account username or password. New Mexico laws protect only applicants from such requests.You cannot ask an applicant or employee to add a supervisor or a manager to his or her ‘friends’ or ‘contacts’ list or to change the privacy settings of the account. You cannot ask candidates to grant access to their social media accounts or ask for information that allows you to access or observe their personal accounts. Also, as an employer, you cannot ask candidates to open or access their social media accounts in your presence thus allowing you to scrutinize it. Laws prohibit you to refuse to hire an applicant because he or she fails to comply with any requests that are ‘illegal’ based on your state privacy laws.


With between 70 and 90 percent of employers using social media to make hiring decisions, you should not feel like you are doing anything wrong…on the contrary, reviewing publicly posted information about your candidate is the best way to discover if your next hire is the best fit for your organization.

If you want to get started right way with social media screening, I recommend you use a tool like Ferretly to ensure consistency, legal compliance and reduced time and effort.

About the Author

Connie Alderfer worked in the Human Resources field for more than 20 years as Director of HR,  Technical Recruiter, and most recently as an independent HR consultant. She has worked with large Fortune 100 companies, not-for-profits, and small start up firms. She currently lives and works on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.