HR Management & Compliance

Tips for Smart Social Media Background Searches

The element of surprise in social media background searches is highly overrated, says attorney and social media expert Molly DiBianca.

DiBianca, with the law firm of Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor LLP, made her remarks at a recent regional meeting of the Employers Counsel Network.

She notes that she’s heard about job interviews in which the candidate is told to come around to the interviewer’s side of the desk and log into his or her Facebook account. “This is horrible,” says DiBianca. “The person just feels blindsided.”

A better approach, she says, is to do the following:

1. Set a policy in advance on what you are going to look for. It should be a list of five to six criteria vetted both internally and by counsel.

2. Do social media background searches only on your short list of finalists for the job.


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3. Tell the applicants in advance: “Here’s what we look for; if we find something, we’ll tell you.”

“I’m not in favor of surprises,” DiBianca says. (She also notes that the type of people who generally post terrible things on social media sites aren’t generally the sort of people who will think to try to clean things up for you in advance.)

4. Separate the searcher and the decisionmaker. The decisionmaker should be presented only with findings that pertain to the list of criteria established in step #1.

That way, if the searcher comes across information that shouldn’t be considered in making a hiring decision, such as protected class, the searcher won’t pass that forbidden information along to the decisionmaker.

5. Tell the applicant if you are making a negative decision based on what was found online. Perhaps there is a good explanation—for example, that you looked at the wrong person’s page.

Gaining Access

One suggestion for gaining access to someone’s social media pages: Ask the person to “friend” you for 24 hours only. You get your chance to look around, but then the privacy returns.

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2 thoughts on “Tips for Smart Social Media Background Searches”

  1. What if an applicant doesn’t want to give you access to their profile, even just for 24 hours? That seems like it could be a legally dicey situation.

  2. What if an applicant doesn’t want to give you access to their profile, even just for 24 hours? That seems like it could be a legally dicey situation.

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