Justin Bassett was interviewing for a new job when the interviewer tried to pull up Justin’s Facebook page. The interviewer was thwarted because Justin had made his page “private.” The interviewer then insisted that Justin give him his private login information. Justin refused, withdrew his application for the position, and left.


Cautionary tale, sign of the times, or both?


Employers increasing use of social media sites to find and screen applicants is not exactly breaking news; it has been going on for some time now. However, the idea that a potential employer can ask for private information or login information on sites like Facebook and Gmail is a new trend, and potentially an illegal one. It’s also the type of thing that may turn an ideal candidate into an angry one.


All of which is to say that small businesses that wish to use social media sites to find and screen appliSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngcants must do so cautiously.


With that caveat in place, it is perfectly understandable why you as an employer would use social media in this process. After all, public posts are just that, public. What a job applicant says on his or her Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook page can be useful in understanding the applicant.


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If you want to use social media in your next job search, here are the 5 steps to doing it right:


1.  Start with LinkedIn: There are many reasons to begin (and possibly end) your recruitment with LinkedIn. First of all, as opposed to the informality of Facebook, LinkedIn is designed to be a B2B portal. LinkedIn is about business, period.


It is smart and easy to use the LinkedIn search and advanced search tools to locate potential job candidates. By inputting the factors and experience you deem important, you can very quickly get a list of potential candidates.


Once you have that, then…


2. Dive deeper – using LinkedIn again. Once you find some folks who may fit the bill, check out their LinkedIn profile. There you can find out…


  • Their career path and their timeline
  • What they have done relevant to what you need
  • Who has recommended them and what was said


3. Contact the best options: I am recommending LinkedIn as the basis of your social media search because that is really what that platform is designed to do – help professionals find the right professionals. LinkedIn is for networking, and that is what you are trying to do.


Once you have made your list, LinkedIn is again beneficial because you can use mutual contacts to reach out to a candidate.


4. Use Facebook and Twitter to research the interviewees: It is only after finding the right people that the other more informal social media sites might come in handy (and only if you think it is necessary to dig that deep).


A candidate’s Facebook page will tell you a lot about the person; things their resume does not. Similarly what they tweet or post on Instagram may also yield some valuable information.


Use this info to learn more and ask follow-up questions, but as you do…


5. Be careful of legalities: Caution is necessary. Diving too deep into people’s private affairs is not only questionable legally, but also would likely turn them off. When you are trying to fill a position with the best person available, you will be far less likely to get that person if you start the relationship out angering them and invading their privacy.


Additionally, as you likely know, it is illegal to base a hiring decision on discriminatory reasons. That is, you cannot not hire someone because he or she is black, or a female, or Jewish, for example. You cannot discriminate your hiring, period.


So you must use extreme caution when researching a candidate’s social media profiles because you will likely learn of their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, family situation, etc. – all things you previously would and should not know and ask about. And if a candidate gets the idea that you did not hire her because you read on her Facebook timeline that she is gay, you can get into a big mess.


It is understandable that you would check out what someone says online, but as you do, be careful to use it and not abuse it. If you do that, then they will stay your “friend.”


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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