A Social Media Background Check may sound self-explanatory, but in today’s screening market, there’s much to consider.

What is a Social Media Background Check? It’s the process of reviewing a job applicant’s social media pages to learn about the candidate. The background check is performed using information available to the public through social media platforms. Make no mistake, Social Media Background Checks can be illegal if compliance standards are ignored.

Social Media Background Checks can reveal facts about a candidate difficult to find during traditional job interviews. There are risks in checking a job candidate’s social media pages, but there are also risks in not doing it.

You can find a number of traits on social media that can help you avoid making the “bad hiring decision.” You might also be able to determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit.

Beware quick assessments. Just because you find a picture of someone drinking on a wild Saturday night does not mean the person will be a bad employee. Having a life outside of work could be a good sign. As we said, it’s a fine line.

The Good
Social media can also reveal someone involved in volunteer work. Enjoyable family outings or positive postings go a long way towards defining the personality of your potential new employee.

The Bad
Of course, the social media universe is also a vast minefield of violent and sexist rhetoric, not to mention enraged political arguments. If you see your candidate sharing or creating posts promoting the kind disturbing bombast appropriate for the sacking of government institutions, it might be a good idea to factor this into your hiring decision.

And the Ugly
Companies can legally disqualify job applicants whose social media posts endorse racist or hateful statements.

Fair Game
Social media was once new, but no more. There used to be a common thought you should only look at a person’s professional page such as LinkedIn. Today, all sites are fair game, with the line between professional and personal social networking effectively the same.

Final Stage
If you choose to conduct a Social Media Background Check, it’s important to only do so at the end of the hiring process. A good way to minimize the risk of lawsuits is to not search a candidates’ social media pages until you are close to making a hiring decision. Absolutely and at all times avoid checking a candidate’s social media pages when screening résumés.

Social media checks should be the last stage in the process. If you wait until after interviews are conducted, job candidates will have a difficult time claiming the reason they weren’t hired was because you saw their age on Facebook.

Professional Eyes
When a Social Media Background Check is conducted, it’s a good idea to only use a professional background screening service or an HR professional. Treat a candidate’s pages as if they were for professional eyes only.

Consistency is key. Guidelines should be adhered to in the same manner for every candidate. Make sure you are checking every person when hiring for a job. If a Social Media Background Check is not necessary for a certain position, make sure other candidates for the same position are not checked as well.

Public Pages
It’s important to only check social media pages visible to the public. If they are password protected, you cannot legally ask for the candidate’s passcode. In fact, asking for a password is a criminal offense in nearly two dozen states in the U.S.

Ask a background screening firm such as GroupOne what they look for on social media pages. Set a firm guidance for their searches. Tell the company what you are looking for and what you have little interest in. Absolutely and at all times never look for medical or personal information.

Federal law states you must alert job candidates if you are conducting a background check on them. The law is unclear if you need to tell them their social media pages will be checked.

Transparency is always the best practice. Candidates should be informed in advance their social media will be screened. Granted, providing candidates with fair warning could cause them to remove damaging posts. But it could also weed out those who do not care enough to clear it up, thus providing a clue as to their initiative – an added value.