Background Screening Expert Explains the Dangers to Avoid
Social and professional networking sites have become enormously
popular ways to connect with friends and colleagues. MySpace™
has 73 million American users, Facebook™ has 36 million U.S.
members and LinkedIn™ has 17 million members.
As a result, social networking sites present a tempting source
of information for employers. 60 to 70 percent of hiring
managers are currently doing online background checks of
prospective candidates, often before they contact them for an
But screening candidates by reading their online profiles
presents numerous legal and ethical challenges for businesses,
recruiters and hiring managers.
Employers who choose to use these and other social networking
sites, such as Twitter™, must use care to avoid attaining and
using information in a discriminatory way. They need to ensure
that they are in compliance and do not break privacy laws, as
well as be sure that the information obtained is accurate.
The leading social networking sites
* MySpace is a popular international social networking website
offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends,
personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos for
teens and adults. It's owned by Fox Interactive Media, which is
owned by News Corporation.
* Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg while he was still a
student at Harvard Univerity. Users can join networks organized
by city, school, workplace and region to connect and interact
with others. Website membership was initially only available to
Harvard students, but now has more than 80 million active users
* LinkedIn is a site mainly used for professional networking.
The purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain
a list of contact details of people they know and trust in
business. The people in the list are called Connections. Users
can invite anyone to become a connection.
Pitfalls of using social and professional networking sites to
screen job candidates
Some employers may feel that they should take advantage of the
"free" information that is available on these sites. Before
employers use information obtained from these sites they need to
• The use of personal information
• Accessibility issues
• Accuracy of information
• Privacy compliance
It is important that hiring managers not discriminate against a
candidate because they included something strange on a social
network website. Many candidates post indiscreet photos or share
too much information about their religious and political
beliefs, sexual preferences, age, marital status or unusual
hobbies in their profiles. However, it's illegal for employers
to consider these factors when making their hiring decisions.
"Pretexting" is another risk to avoid. Employers should never
set up a fake identity in order to join a candidate's friends'
network and gain access to their information. In addition, it's
often difficult to determine if you're reading the profile of
the job applicant or someone else with a similar name.
The best practice is to perform an Internet search on a
candidate only after a conditional job offer is made, and only
if you disclose that you will be doing an online background
Consequences of misusing the information on social and
professional networking websites include discrimination lawsuits
and claims of invasion of privacy from job applicants.
A safer alternative
For an affordable, safer way to vet potential employees, it's
best to rely on a professional pre-employment screening firm.
These firms offer unbiased and accurate employee information
• Criminal Records
• Driving Records
• Drug Testing
• Social Security Number
• Worker's Compensation
• Licenses & Credentials
• Credit Profile
Any information on an applicant's background needs to be
handled in a legal and confidential manner. The reality is that
Human Resources or a business owner will not have the time to
weed out the good from the bad information obtained through
social and professional networking websites. Even if they had
the time, they may not know what information is allowed under
Social and professional networking websites may be useful to
gain a better understanding of who the applicant is, but should
not be relied upon to make a sound hiring decision.
In order to avoid privacy violation and discrimination claims,
experts recommend getting the assistance of a professional and
experienced employment screening firm.
About The Author: For a free report on "The Business Guide to
Background Checks," go to http://www.accuscreen.com/freeguide.
Kevin Connell has 15 years experience as founder/CEO of
Accu-Screen, Inc., which specializes in pre-employment
background screening. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org