Status update: You’re hired

How much weight should HR give to social networking profiles when recruiting?
By Philip Smith
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

It seems like social networking is being used more and more to fire, rather than hire, employees.

There has been plenty of media coverage given to candidates who have been turned away from the hiring process as a result of status updates, tweets, photographs, personal content and opinions posted to their respective social network profiles.

So the question begs to be asked: “How much weight should be given to social networking profiles in the job-search process?”

One side of the debate argues social network screening reflects only a candidate’s private life and personal values and, therefore, bears no weight when it comes to gauging an individual’s work life and on-the-job ethics.

On the other hand, social network screening allows an employer to peer into a person’s character unlike any other screening tool has ever been able to do, and character is generally not something that changes depending on one’s environment — at least it shouldn’t.

Therein lies the dilemma when evaluating a candidate’s social network activity — there’s an unspoken rule that a person’s online persona should reflect her true offline persona. Thus, it would seem unreasonable and unnatural for an employer to expect someone’s personal social networking presence to portray a sense of professional decorum at all times. It would arguably be the same as asking employees to maintain their professional decorum while at home with family and friends.

At an extreme, it could be argued that evaluating a person’s social media content in relation to his ability to perform a job is like spying on a candidate’s home and personal life.

Nevertheless, social networking profiles for candidates are easily accessible and, at this point, they’re fair game to use in the screening process. With this in mind, why shouldn’t social networking profiles be given as much weight in the screening process as any other screening tool — especially given the unique insights they can provide into an individual’s character?

The real debate should be concerned with how social networking activity is evaluated by potential employers, as well as the boundaries employers should self-impose in their evaluation endeavours.

Evaluating suitability

Much of the opposition to social network screening has come in response to employers using social networks to eliminate a candidate from the job search process for a variety of reasons — speaking ill of past employers or colleagues, lying about absenteeism from work while posting pictures of a wild night of debauchery from the weekend or bragging about a hangover, to name a few.

But there are several ways to positively use a candidate’s social networking activity to evaluate her suitability for a job or fit into an organization’s culture:

• Can the details of the candidate’s resumé — such as volunteer work, education and past careers — be confirmed?

• What unsolicited yet encouraging comments or references are offered about the individual’s skills, abilities, work ethic or character?

• Are there causes or organizations the candidate is passionate about?

• Does she engage with an impressive network of people and organizations that could be of benefit to the employer?

• Is the candidate well-respected and a thought leader in her industry?

• What does she contribute to her industry?

• Does the candidate show ease of use with various social media platforms and technology?

Boundaries to consider

When initiating the screening process for a given candidate, consider which of the following boundaries might be worth imposing on your social media screening:

• Initially, look for ways to affirm, rather than discard, candidates using their social networking activity.

• Evaluate content that only applies directly to a candidate’s skills, work ethics and ability to perform on the job, rather than creeping Facebook albums for pictures of how a candidate spends her leisure time.

• Be increasingly sensitive to personal bias when looking at a social network profile to avoid the risk of eliminating a candidate based on discriminatory factors.

• Use your organization’s own social media policy, rather than your own personal opinion, to evaluate the appropriateness of a candidate’s online content.

• During an interview, tread cautiously when referencing or requesting clarification regarding a candidate’s social network content as his response to this kind of screening may be unpredictable.

• Be mindful of emotional responses evoked by a candidate’s social network content and seek a second opinion if necessary.

Keep in mind, a job-search candidate is not the only one who should take a second look at her online activity. Employees can also lose their jobs as a direct result of their activities on social media.

Perhaps the best way to practise these social media screening techniques is to evaluate your own social networking activity by the same criteria and see how easily you would be hired — or fired.

Philip J.W. Smith is president of Toronto-based executive search firm Philip J.W. Smith & Co., which specializes in the not-for-profit sector. He can be reached at or (416) 312-6632.

Social Media

Why people are altering their social media profiles

One in 10 young people have been rejected for a job because of their social media profile, according to a survey of 6,000 people aged 16 to 34 by On Device Research in London, U.K. Yet two-thirds of respondents say they are not concerned that their use of social media may harm their future career prospects and are not deterred from using it.

To look good for friends

To look good for employers

United Kingdom



United States















Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *