Online social media sites provide opportunities for employers who want to recruit potential employees, but they also present significant challenges if employers want to use them for screening and background checks. Checking employee job references is even more problematic in online social media.

Human resources hiring departments benefit from increased access to candidates’ social media sites, gaining access to much more candidate information than they previously would have had at their fingertips.

Still, no consensus exists among employers regarding searching online for information about prospective employees because of both potential discrimination and negligent hiring charges.

However, a steady rise in the percentage of employers checking online information is likely, as using social media becomes further entrenched in the fabric of social networking and job searching.

In a study from CareerBuilder, 70% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates during the hiring process. Forty-eight percent check up on current employees on social media, 34% have reprimanded or fired an employee based on content found online.

Social media research can help and hinder both employers and potential employees. Here we have listed a few advantages and disadvantages in terms of how social media affects the hiring process:

Advantages of Social Media Screening

Social Media as a Recruitment Tool

Employers are using social media as a tool for sourcing and recruiting prospective candidates. Social networking allows organizations to build their employment brand and awareness, expand the breadth and depth of their network, target top talent in a large range of skill sets, and improve the effectiveness of their recruiting efforts.

About eight in 10 HR professionals (84%) of SHRM survey respondents said that recruiting job candidates is the main reason their organizations use social media for recruitment. Another 9% plan to begin using social media. Seventy-seven percent of employers use social media for increasing employer brand recognition and 71% use it to target job candidates with a specific set of skills.

A Deeper Look at Candidates

Traditionally, employers have been limited to information on resumes, through personality and skills tests and other work focused channels. With the advent of social media, employers have gained a window to expanded information, like a candidate’s personal interests, social interactions and previous work samples, giving employers a fuller picture of the person they are hiring.

There is a vast amount of information available through social media that is generally unavailable in interviews, resumes and background checks, including these red flags:

  • Images of illegal drug use
  • Illegal or illicit content
  • Negative comments about previous jobs or clients
  • Deceptive, scammy posts
  • Threats to people or past employers
  • Confidential or sensitive information about people or previous employers

Remote Recruiting

The Internet and social media allow employers that are located in remote areas or looking for a specific skill set to increase their access to potential employees. In the past, these businesses have traditionally relied upon advertising to find new candidates, but social media has all but wiped out the need to advertise positions through more traditional means.

So employers in remote areas benefit from both a form of free advertising for positions and a brighter spotlight for their corporate identity.

Building Employer Image

A Robert Walters Group survey finds social media has a significant impact on job seekers in shaping their view of employers. Of all social media sources used as a research tool, professional networks, such as LinkedIn, beat other sites by a margin of 4 to 1.

However, using professional networks to post vacancies is not enough. Employers must maintain high quality, engaging content that relates to questions on employee opportunities, a company’s culture and its future. Active participation in online groups specific to a particular sector or industry – now used by nearly 70% of job seekers—is also vital to gaining an advantage for employers over their competitors.

Disadvantages of Social Media Screening

The Dangers of Discrimination and Avoiding Liability

Employers must be careful with what types of information they are accessing through social media, as accessing the wrong type of information can lead to discrimination cases. In addition, a social media profile does not always give the best overview of a potential employee.

Once a potential employer reviews a candidate’s online profile, a court will assume the company is aware of that person’s protected characteristics that are often part of their online postings. These characteristics include gender and race as well as those that are not always evident in a face-to-face interview such as religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. If a company does review social media as part of its hiring process, most experts recommend doing so after you have met face-to-face in an interview.

Social Information Can Be Unreliable, Inaccurate

Most people maintain a clear distinction between their professional and personal lives. Personal social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter may not give an accurate indication of how well an individual may perform in a job role. Employers must ensure that information from personal social media profiles does not detract from securing top talent.

Even the information that helps predict job performance can be inaccurate, sometimes intentionally. A majority of candidates report editing their profiles to appeal to a potential employer—such as altering visibility settings and removing photos or other information. For this reason, investing in social media research may be less valuable than expected.

Research Time Might Not Be Worth It

For an employer trying to make comparisons between potential candidates, sorting through social media to make these comparisons can be extremely time consuming. If a company does not have enough staff resources, the search process can quickly become exhausting.

Additionally, the huge volume of information available on social media and through online searches can make it difficult for employers to refine their search enough to achieve meaningful results.


Social media as a recruitment and hiring tool has bright and dark sides. Potential employers can gain information on candidates that might prove useful and would otherwise be hard to find. Employer pages on social media can help cost effectively reach those candidates, especially for remotely located employers, and build a company’s image.

While candidate information is abundant online, it is often of suspect accuracy and frequently edited by candidates to appeal to a prospective employer. In addition to consuming possibly unreliable information, employers must be careful with the information they can confirm to avoid discrimination lawsuits.

Disclaimer: The content of this article does not constitute legal advice. Resource Associates reminds you to consult your legal counsel prior to engaging in any employee screening practices to ensure compliance.