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At first glance, social networking sites seemed almost too good to be true to hiring managers looking for a way to uncover the real personality of their candidates. After all, professionals can write resumes and interviews can be polished with practice and experience. Making a good first impression is the basic skill to acquire in the art of building a career, even if it is not always a good indicator of the true personality of a candidate.

All experienced managers understand the difference between the person they hired and the employee they will get to know over time. They are two different people, not necessarily in a negative way, but the disparities are indicative of the gap between the initial perception and the longer-term reality. It was with Facebook and My Space that the phenomenon of social networking made its appearance. People are more relaxed and open, offering a more authentic insight into their true nature in an environment. What recruiting manager could resist the temptation to scrutinize his candidates with the help of this new marvel?

A few companies see this new tool as an opportunity to reduce the costs of more conventional pre-employment background checks, relying instead on Google searches and the unknown treasures offered by these new social networking sites to check the backgrounds of their candidates. Most are still struggling to figure out how to integrate these new tools into their hiring process.

Human resources experts estimate that 30-40% of recruiters and in-house human resources professionals search the Internet for their candidates. A recent study by showed that 45% of hiring managers use social networking sites. Of these directors, 35% discover information that will make them reject the choice of a candidate.

Those who belong to the second camp are cautious. The use of social networking sites for pre-employment screening has quickly become a mine of legal dilemmas. People have sued companies that refused to hire them based on what they discovered on their Facebook or My Space page. Human Resources recommends that companies proceed with caution and establish policies and procedures to dictate the use of social networking sites in their recruiting process.

Although employers can conduct background checks themselves, it may be worth considering a company that specializes in background checks for hiring purposes. This can ensure the rigor and reliability of background checks. Before choosing a company to help you with the background check, make sure the company will follow the guidelines set out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A reputable company that provides background checks will also ensure that the data you receive is up-to-date, accurate, and compliant with regulations.

In order to perform background checks, you must have the consent of the potential employee. You might consider having this permission on your job applications to reduce wait times between matches. Many companies use this technique.

Purchasing instant public records, i.e. a web page that provides information gathered from the web, is not appropriate for performing background checks on potential employees. If you confirm that your hiring decisions are based on searchable public record data, you may be more likely to be held liable for employee misconduct via the negligent hiring and negligent retention theories.

As companies try to navigate using social media screening as a tool for pre-employment screening, there are some guidelines that can help them.

  • Remember that Facebook and other social media platforms contain unverified information and are intended for informal audiences.
  • Establish clear policies and procedures regarding the use of social networking sites in the staff recruitment and hiring process. Make sure candidates are made aware of these procedures.
  • Use what you have discovered on social networking sites to assess the social profile of your candidates and not their basic qualifications.
  • Give your candidates a chance to refute what you have discovered. Profiles on social networks may have been created by “spammers”, people who have a grudge against the candidate and not necessarily by the candidate himself.
  • Comments from anyone other than the candidate on social media may be a breach of confidentiality and cause for litigation.

Now that the Pandora’s Box of social media has been opened, it is hard to imagine that employers won’t take advantage of this new tool. However, as with all tools, the benefits and risks depend on the skill and efficiency with which it is used.