Social Media Discrimination: Screening vs. Sourcing Candidates

The Hire-archy of Social Recruiting in the Hiring Process

This is part 3 in a series on social media and recruitment as part of Workology. Click here for part 1

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, social media, in my opinion, is the most misunderstood and popular tool for candidate recruitment used by recruiters to date. Social media provides recruiters and hiring managers the opportunity to access an active candidate’s shared news, information and resources about themselves in real time. These potential job seekers may not be active in the job market, but we’re watching them just the same. The information they share is available to nearly anyone providing a timeline of interests, comments, events and a stream of conscious for those with good intentions as well as bad.

Understanding Social Media for Employers

It’s easy when we look at social media and listening for employers to take the easy path. We see social as an employment screening tool, a form of candidate knockout question as part of the employment process. This is not the case. When it comes to using social media for sourcing or candidate screening, it’s not the recruiters or HR professionals I’m worried about. It’s the hiring managers and those participating in the interview that present the greater employment law and discrimination risk for your employer. When it comes to using social media as part of the hiring process, it depends on your employer’s overall hiring and recruitment strategy.

Below, is our Hire-archy of Social Recruiting that outlines the basic needs when and steps when it comes to social media for recruitment. While social sourcing is a more advanced strategy when it comes to social media, social screening falls within the most foundation stage of social recruiting, Social Listening.

Social listening is a very passive approach to social media where conversations and monitored and employers are aware but maybe are unsure how to handle these conversations are happening. While employers are waiting or taking time to develop a formal policy, strategy or approach, it’s right to assume that social screening is likely already happening.


Two Types of Uses for Social Media During Hiring

In the candidate selection process, there are two main reasons you would use social media:

Social Media and Internet Sourcing. 

Internet sourcing, a more advanced strategy as seen in the graphic above, generally happens at the beginning of the hiring process where a “sourcer” (often separate from a recruiter) uses chat rooms, Google x-ray, online communities or social media to find qualified candidates whose profiles are not listed or are not complete on LinkedIn or other resume mining databases like, CareerBuilder or Indeed.

Social Media Background Check. 

It begins with “the Google”. This is where the employer actively searches for information with regard to the specific job seeker not provided on their employment application or during the interview. This action is the single most dangerous activity a hiring manager can make outside of blatantly asking illegal interview questions about age, marital status or pregnancy during a job interview.

The problem is that most hiring managers or even employment law attorney’s don’t really understand the distinction between these two activities when it comes to recruiting, hiring and social media. Outside council doesn’t often take the time to really understand how the law impacts HR or a hiring manager. Clarifying questions aren’t asked to determine indifferences, which is a fundamental beef I have with attorneys who work with HR. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an attorney talk during a conference on this subject, I’d have a very nice down payment on a new car.

The key for recruiters and HR is to educate EVERYONE, your council and especially your hiring manager. Paint a picture, speak frequently, and over communicate the perils, pitfalls and benefits of using social media in the hiring and employment process. Make them understand the difference between Internet sourcing and social media background checks as part of the hiring and employment process.

The Benefits of Internet Sourcing

As the use of social networks, mobile and the Internet continues to grow in importance in our everyday lives, I believe that sourcing for candidates is here to stay. Corporate recruitment teams who use sourcing as a funnel to open requisitions and talent communities will be at a distinct advantage against their competition as long as their company cultures and organizational values support such aggressive candidate recruitment strategies. True sourcers are invaluable to the hiring and recruitment process while also separating the use of social media from the recruiter or hiring manager so that they are not influenced by the candidate’s online profile information even unconsciously. This opportunity for discrimination that occurs after viewing a candidate’s social network even if not on purpose is what I refer to as social media discrimination.

Social Media Discrimination

If social media background checks are used as part of the employment and verification process, it needs to be consistent and for every single candidate. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed employers use Google or other Internet search tools to pre-screen candidates as part of the employment process according to a 2009 CareerBuilder study. Hiring managers and those involved in the selection process cannot under any circumstances be “googling” the candidate. Doing so opens up a can of worms, potential litigation and negative press either by parties like the NLRB or job seekers looking for their opportunity to tell their story to whoever and whomever will listen right or wrong. No social media policy can protect an employer from social media discrimination.

Check out Part 1 of the Workology series on Social Media Recruiting or click here to read part 4 of the ongoing series. 

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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