Employers are interrogating social media platforms more and more to screen candidates, but they need to be aware of the dangers and pitfalls of a DIY approach.

To begin with, let’s look at the prevalence and growth of this trend.

New research† indicates that 70% of employers use social media to pre-screen candidates before hiring them, a trend that is growing exponentially year-on-year. The research also indicates that a further 7% of businesses planned to start doing this in the near future.

Of even more interest is that of the 1000+ HR professionals interviewed, 57% indicated that they had rejected a candidate because of content they found during their search. That has wider – and frankly hazardous – implications for employers, which we’ll come back to later in this blog.

47% of employers said that if they can’t identity a candidate online then they are less likely to call that person in for an interview. Companies often have to contend with a high volume of applications for most vacancies they offer and are often looking for ‘easy’ reasons not to progress applications after the initial sift of CVs.

The impact of online presence

Whether we intend it or not, social media infiltrates most aspects of our personal and professional lives and there is no doubt that what people post online can have a huge impact on their prospective employment chances. Some of the more damaging content that employers find and cite as reasons for not hiring a candidate include:

  • Inappropriate images
  • Evidence of drinking and drug use
  • Discriminatory comments around race, gender or religion
  • Evidence of criminal behaviour
  • Lying about qualifications
  • Poor communication skills
  • Bad-mouthing their previous company or a fellow employee
  • Unprofessional screen name
  • Sharing of confidential information
  • Lying about absence
  • Posting too frequently

It’s not all bad however and, in line with our mission at hooareyoo™ to improve the online digital footprint of any individual that we profile, the research also highlighted the positive content, considered when looking into social media profiles, that led employers to hire a candidate. This includes:

  • Supporting evidence of their professional qualifications
  • Demonstration of a professional image
  • Demonstration of creativity
  • Evidence of a wide range of interests
  • Understanding of the candidate’s personality
  • Good communication skills
  • Evidence of awards and accolades
  • Strong interaction with social media accounts
  • The posting of a compelling video or other content
  • Large number of followers
  • Posting of positive references by other people

Risks and rewards of social media analysis

Before any employer considers adopting this approach, there are a couple of major pitfalls that you need to be very aware of.

Ad hoc analysis can be misleading

When companies search online for people what platforms do they usually go to? Well it varies, but more often than not the individual responsible will go to the social media channel that they are most familiar with as they will know their way around to some degree and will be assisted in their search if they can log in to the platform. Looking at online behaviour based on just one platform can be remarkably misleading.

A person’s persona, the language they use, the content they post and the company they keep can vary dramatically between social media platforms. What may be interpreted as cheeky banter on Twitter could potentially be seen as extremely inappropriate if it was replicated on LinkedIn for example. Without assessing an individual’s activity across every platform they populate it is impossible to establish a true reflection of a person’s digital footprint and therefore make an accurate assessment.

Furthermore, as individuals themselves, the personnel tasked with undertaking this ‘research’ are likely to be influenced on how they interpret online behaviour by the way they behave on that channel themselves. What consistent criteria, if any, is being used to gather data and then analyse it?

A utility like hooareyoo™ solves this problem. Not only does our software interrogate the top 12 leading social media platforms and other online portals, it analyses and interprets the data in a completely consistent manner using methodology and algorithms derived from painstaking academic and industry expert R&D. Rather than be prone to ad hoc data searches, bias or misinterpretation, the human element only comes in after the data is sourced and assessed, to further embellish our Digital Footprint reporting. Here our team of clinical psychologists are able to use the data to build a deeper personality profile of the individual, if required.

Only with a fully holistic and consistent approach to the gathering, analysis and interpretation of online data is one able to trust the results enough to be of benefit – to identify strengths and weaknesses in online profiles, spot potential risk, safeguarding and security issues and to potentially use the results for comparative purposes against whatever behavioural activity is most relevant to the objectives.

Falling foul of GDPR

If a company is sourcing online data about any individual then they will certainly be a Data Processor (as defined by recent new data protection legislation) but they, unwittingly, may also be acting as a Data Controller and in breach of GDPR and so at risk of the enormous penalties that can result.

If you store any information at all about any individual, even for the shortest periods of time, then you are a data processor. If a company is analysing and storing any data gleaned from the internet regarding an individual they are acting as Data Controllers and are likely to be falling foul of the strict new regulations surrounding data protection.

A data controller must be able to demonstrate that they comply with a set of principles relating to the processing of personal data and ensure that it is:

  • Processed lawfully, fairly and transparently
  • Collected only for explicit purposes
  • Limited only to what is necessary
  • Accurate and kept up to date
  • Not kept in a form which allows the identification of individuals for any longer than is necessary
  • Processed in a way that ensures its security

It is difficult to see how ad hoc internet searches by untrained personnel could always meet the above criteria.

Here again professional online search utilities such as hooareyoo™ are able to solve the problem by conducting the analysis on your behalf and adopting the role of the Data Controller.

This avoids any risk of a company unwittingly leaving their own digital fingerprints on candidate’s data and, moreover, leaving themselves open to claims of discrimination, prejudice, etc. for the ones they reject.


† CareerBuilder/Harris Poll Aug 2018