News Article

Social Media Screening: A Candidate’s Saucy Joke May Have Cost Them a Job

Posted 6th May 2022 • Written by Nino Padova on LinkedIn •

Josh Greenblatt wanted some ponzu sauce — then he wanted a job. He got neither.

The Toronto-based freelance writer shook up Twitter recently when he published a letter from a recruiter informing him that the employer would not be moving ahead with his candidacy (the employer and the recruiter’s name were redacted).

The reason for the snub? A background screening showed that Josh’s online presence was inconsistent with the company’s social media policy. Feeling the need to provide an example, the recruiter cites a tweet in which Josh talks about burning down Whole Foods. 

And this is where it gets good. 

Josh retweeted his original post, dated November 2018. In it, he states that if his local Whole Foods “doesn’t restock ponzu sauce at the stir fry counter I will set this place ablaze.”

Rejection letters have long been fuel for moral outrage, but embedded in the noise is a new reality for talent professionals. A 2020 Harris Poll of more than 1,000 hiring managers showed that 67 percent of employers use social media to research job candidates. (Other polls have the number as high as 90 percent.) Of those Harris Poll hiring managers, more than half — 54 percent — said they chose not to hire a person based on what they found.

Some recruiters argue that social media probes are a useful tool in helping them hire people, rather than disqualify them. “A lot of recruiters are using social media for skills assessment, and that can be a good thing,” Aliah Wright, a manager with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites, told Business News Daily

No matter how you view it, one thing is clear: There’s no special sauce when it comes to online screening. At a time when so much of our lives are broadcasted over social media, how do we best sift through the digital breadcrumbs? Here are three principles to help guide you to better results. 

1. Create a thoughtful social media screening policy

HR professionals have to be careful when going down the rabbit hole, Aliah said. Companies can put themselves at risk of violating consumer protection laws, especially if their screening processes aren't airtight. The best way to avoid that: Create a strong social media screening policy. 

SHRM published a handy guide of best practices that’s worth checking out. They include logistical advice, such as identifying who will conduct the screening and when during the application process it should happen, as well as tips on effective Boolean searches and which social media platforms have lower participation rates for underrepresented groups.

2. Be consistent

Once your policy is in place, the key is to follow it consistently. If your guidelines dictate that only management positions get screened, you should stick to that, no exceptions. 

It takes less than a minute for a recruiter searching a candidate on the open web to turn up personal information. And once you turn on the spigot, it’s hard, if not impossible, to control the flow of information.

One way to minimize risk is to team up with a partner. FAMA, a Los Angeles-based social media screening provider, and companies like it use artificial intelligence (AI) to probe candidates’ online activity, taking the regulatory guesswork and human bias out of the hands of overburdened recruiters. These companies allow you to customize your search, so that you can control what you want to know and, perhaps more importantly, what you don't want to know.

3. Use common sense

Which brings us back to Josh. It’s possible that the employer hired a third-party screener whose software flagged a tweet that, on the surface, projects violence and potential criminal activity — exactly the kind of behavior you’d want to be aware of before sending out an offer letter. 

But software, like the humans who develop it, is imperfect. “Algorithms are good for economies of scale,” says Adina Sterling, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “They’re not good for nuance.” She believes that companies need to do a better job of making sure their AI recruitment tools are performing the way they want them to.

In the meantime, a little old-fashioned common sense might be the most effective tool in a recruiter’s shed. We’ll never know all the factors involved in Josh’s rejection, but one thing seems clear: His social media presence didn’t win him any favors. Alas, it was not meant to be for the condiment-loving Canadian.

As one sympathetic Twitter user quipped, “Dodged a bullet on that one.” Then, as if grasping the irony of his comment, he added: “And if those employers are reading, I’m not actually talking about dodging an actual bullet.”

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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