How Social Media is used for Recruitment and Screening

Social Media usage for hiring has two distinct categories: recruitment and screening.  Each category yields value, but social media screening exposes risk to the hiring organization.  This article establishes the role of each category and provides methods to minimize social media screening risk.


According to SHRM, recruiting via social media is used, or will be used, by a staggering  93% of organizations.  That includes 84% of organizations currently using it and 9% planning to use it.  Most recruiters have established at least one social media account used as a primary tool for evaluating professional activity.

The initial phase of recruitment is one that some label “pre-screening.”  It involves preliminary reviews of potential candidates to establish credentials and determine whether they should be included in the candidate pool for a position.

When these organizations are using social media in this phase of candidate recruitment their primary interest is in finding information that;

  • Supports the candidate’s qualifications,
  • Validates the candidate has an online presence,
  • Preliminary review of public posts by the candidate, and
  • Learning how others feel about the candidate by reviewing what others post about them.

A positive social media persona is essential because 57% of employers are less likely to contact someone if the candidate has no online presence.  

The organizations that use social media in their recruitment process are hoping to achieve several benefits.  Some benefits include connecting with “passive candidates,” getting a first-hand look at the candidate’s interests and passion, analyzing the cultural fit of a candidate, and saving money.   While there are many other benefits to using social media in the recruitment phase, there is an impact: 33% of recruiters report they have excluded a candidate based on social media behavior.

Recruiting candidates via social media is no longer a one-off or anticipated future trend in the industry.  It will now be widely used, measured, and even championed by many organizations.  


When we examine the use of social media of a prospective candidate, things become more serious. While recruiters are tasked with building a list of desirable and qualified candidates, the search firm and/or hiring managers must work to vet and screen those on the list to select the best candidate. 

Social media behavior and history can have a profound impact on the success of a new hire.  That’s the reason screening a candidate’s social media presence has become so important.  A CareerBuilder survey reports 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring to minimize the risk of a bad hire or brand harm.

If bad or questionable behavior exists in the candidate’s social media history, it’s imperative that the hiring decision maker determine the risk of this behavior and decide if the risk is acceptable. Sometimes, the recruiter and/or hiring manager must decide to eliminate the candidate from consideration.

Decision makers are evaluating five significant categories of online behavior to determine risk.  The categories are: Guns and Violence, Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Drugs and Alcohol, and Obscenity.  If the screening service can customize categories for specific organizations or sectors, it will allow for a more in-depth look at fit.  High risk factors or scores in these categories may prompt further analysis of the situation or context.  This presents challenges to recruiters, hiring managers and human resource professionals. 

The challenges are in three primary areas;

•    Cost – Can the screening be accomplished without the extraordinary time and money expense?

•    Thoroughness – Is the screening comprehensive?

•    Bias – Can the screening be completed without prejudice?


Widespread social media usage is into its second decade.  Social media history may include youthful exuberance and more mature application.  The ability to screen a candidate’s social media history should not exhaust budgets or the staff performing the screening.  Manual reviews are cumbersome, prone to error, and time-consuming. 

To respond to the challenge of time and money expense organizations should seek automated software systems or external vendor solutions that reduce labor, time, and expenses.


There is a risk that a manual or public review will not be thorough. If the review is only of publicly available content, the review will miss posts and content that the candidate has deliberately shielded from view using privacy settings.  The shielded posts and content will be available to friends, which is likely to happen once a candidate has been hired into your organization; or, a candidate who is already connected to employees in the organization.

To reduce the risk of inadequate screening, use screening services that provides permission-based screening. Certain screening services, like Social Media 23, use permission-based screening to see beyond the publicly available content of the candidate’s social media profiles.


Evaluating the candidate’s social media history has to be accomplished without allowing bias, or the appearance of bias, to influence decisions.   The hiring manager may develop unconscious views of the candidate based on their review of the content a candidate has posted to their social media profile. Their unconscious bias may affect hiring decisions.

To protect themselves from this charge, hiring decision makers can utilize third-party screening services that shield them from seeing the posts and content of the candidate.


Social media recruitment and screening will continue to increase.  If you haven’t already, your organization must establish policies and guidelines that govern how social media should be used by employees, therefore impacting the recruiting, screening and hiring process.   An element of the plan should be the inclusion of external third-party service firms that can recruit and screen without your direct involvement.  This approach can be economical, comprehensive, and remove any appearance of bias.