Can Social Media Background Checks Be Trusted?

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

Amazed businessmen holding a laptopA 2014 Careerbuilder study shows that 43 percent of employers are using social media to background check candidates, and they forecast that up to 60 percent of you could be using social media to background check candidates this time next year. It’s not hard to see the appeal of using social media in that it is free and easily accessible through the web, and employers can quickly get a snapshot into an employee’s background without hiring the services of a private investigator.

However, one shortcoming of social media background checking are the inferences that are drawn from the content that employers find on these pages. It seems that recruiters and employers are all too quick to take on the role of social media forensic psychologist and make inferences about a person’s personality, based on what they see on his/her profile, without really knowing if their judgment is sound.

For example, one of the most common reasons that recruiters reject candidates is because there are pictures of them using alcohol (not an illegal activity) and drugs in their spare time, yet this Carolina State University shows no correlation between alcohol and drug related content and conscientiousness. Just because a candidate has pictures of him or her consuming alcohol or doing drugs does not mean the person will necessarily be a worse employee. Yet, how many employers incorrectly make this assumption?

Another study by Carolina State University has also dispelled the widely held belief that Facebook users are narcissists, yet how many employers still hold this outdated belief? Yes, while a 2008 study by Laura Buffardi showed a correlation between Facebook and narcissism, Mckinney’s new study titled, “Narcissism or Openness,” found no relationship between Facebook usage and Narcissism. The explanation for this is that Facebook has gone mainstream and is drawing from the population at large, which may have diluted the initially more narcissistic early adopters.

Not all Facebook information is erroneous as the Carolina State study did find that people who are insulting, critical of others tend to be less agreeable and conscientious, so perhaps these kind of observations might carry more weight.

So, while it’s clear that Facebook profiling has much to offer employers and recruiters, there are definitely some stumbling blocks to be avoided. And I think that employers and recruiters should take much less of a tabloid style/Hello magazine view of Facebook profiling, and be far more judicious with the inferences they draw from social media profiling. This means trying to focus on drawing reliable inferences by focusing on content that has shown scientifically to correlate with personality traits and likely future behavior at your business – while at the same time identifying and reducing the reliance on erroneous content inferences. This will help to remove the air of superficiality around many aspects of personality based social media screening  – and enable it to be viewed as a more respected screening device.

Read more in Background Checks

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.