While it’s not a standard practice to consider potential employee’s
social media presence during the application process, it might become so
in the future as technology continues to improve and people spend more
and more time interacting online. That was the focus of an ASIS
International Information Asset Protection and Pre-Employment Screening
Council (IAPPES) conference call. “It’s a reality that that data trail
is going to start to be crunched and munched by computers and people are
going to start making decisions on those things,” says Dr. Charles
Handler, executive scientist for Logi-Serve, LLC. “And many of us
psychologists are both thrilled and scared by this.”
Handler, who holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in industrial/organizational
psychology from Louisiana State University, says this topic has been on
his mind after reading an article about a new form of credit selection
where some companies are predicting and giving credit to people based on
their friends on Facebook and their friends’ credit scores. Handler
says it’s only a matter of time until people in charge of making hiring
decisions begin to do the same thing—using applicants’ LinkedIn and
Facebook profiles to evaluate them, which could lead to consequences.
They might be tempted to conclude that those with deadbeat friends may
be more likely to be deadbeats, but “that’s kind of scary, because you
can’t make those absolute assumptions,” he says. He cautions that using
social media may not be the most rational way to evaluate whether
someone is qualified to have a particular job.
It may also open an employer up to legal challenges, but the legal
landscape in that regard has yet to be fully formed. This aspect of the
problem wasn’t the focus of the conference call, but Security Management reached out to Les Rosen, an attorney and president of Employment Screening Resources, for some perspective on that.
Thirty six states have introduced laws, or have legislation pending,
that prevent employers from requiring employees to provide them with
their social media account passwords after they’re hired, but there is
still a lack of legislation about using social media in the hiring
process, says Rosen. And while there have been a few court cases
involving employee use of social media after they have been hired and
what employers can do, there have not been cases addressing the use of
social media activity or content as a disqualifier in the hiring
process, he explains.
“The legal landscape leaves employers largely without clear direction
other than the password laws, so employers need to apply existing laws
to determine risk,” Rosen says, adding that it can take a while for a
body of law to emerge, especially with new technology. So “employers
need to see a number of cases from different jurisdictions before a
clear pattern is established.”
But companies don’t appear to be waiting. Even as far back as 2011,
according to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 30
percent indicated that they used “social networking information to
disqualify job candidates,” according to, a white paper written by
Employment Screening Resources in 2012. The paper also noted that at
that time, there had been no court decisions on the issue of using an
applicant’s Internet presence as a factor in the hiring process.
Instead of using social media activity as a disqualifier, however,
Handler says that companies need to hold all of their employment
screening tools to a higher standard and ensure that applicants are
being evaluated in a standardized way that tests the skills that are
critical to successful job performance. To do this, Handler, recommends
that all employers use some form of pre-employment screening tests that
allow them to develop scenarios, or tests, for applicants to take to see
how they react in certain situations and how they could be expected to
perform in the work environment.
These tests aren’t 100 percent accurate, but Handler says that, even
with limited accuracy, they can help employers sort through applicants
in a standardized method and provide a return on investment. Screening
is a four-step process for Handler, with the first defining what you
want the screening tool to measure, the second developing a method that
tests that ability that you want to measure, the third compiling the
data in an understandable format using algorithms to see how candidates
measure up against one another, and the fourth using that data to make
an informed hiring decision.
“The bottom line is you’ve got to choose good measures that map onto
the definition of what you are trying to measure, and then you’ve got to
use that data to support the decision making,” Handler emphasizes,
adding that those in charge of hiring don’t always follow this process.
“I’ve seen it too many times where the first two steps are done and
then, you know there’s no support for change management needed, or
buy-in needed, from the decision makers and the data that’s been
collected and all that work goes for naught.”
Screening can also help prevent employers from taking on a “catastrophic hire” that could do serious damage to their company. “We talk about the concept of a catastrophic hire—one person who blows up the cruise ship or misplaces an I-beam that causes a bridge to collapse—the idea that if you can even just screen out that one person who ends up doing a multiplier of negativity to your company, that’s also extremely valuable,” he says.
Of course, screening methods aren’t at a level of reliability that they can really ensure those bad apples will never get hired, but they may still help reduce the risk that they will be hired.
Most important is to look at the big picture—or the whole person—to assess their abilities, not just one aspect, such as social media presence, Handler said. “I really take what I call a big picture, or a whole person approach, where we use multiple tools staged within a process such that the entire process is set up in a way that supports layers of information that collectively build toward a picture of an applicant’s suitability for a job.”