Can you screen candidates using social media?

A number of employers feel that social media can be a great way to research candidates and see if they could be a good organisational fit.

But there are some risks that you need to think about.

Are you discriminating?

The main risk that arises from an employer using social media during the recruitment process is the risk of claims of unlawful discrimination.

By law, it is not permissible to discriminate, either directly or indirectly, because of the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the Equality Act. These protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Applicants are protected from being discriminated against during the recruitment stage, therefore it is essential that any information you obtain when looking through their social media profiles is not used in a discriminatory way.

Just because you see numerous pictures of the candidate with children, you should not assume that they will be unable to juggle family and professional life. Equally, do not presume that because their tweets show that they practice a particular religion that they will be unable to “fit in” to your company. If you do not offer an applicant the role based on any of protected characteristics, the applicant may make a claim to an Employment Tribunal on the ground of discrimination.

Is the information you find accurate?

Another risk is whether the information that people post or upload to their social media accounts is entirely accurate. Ask yourself:

  • Has the person created a profile just for employers to see and to feed a particular image?
  • Do the half a dozen pictures or few tweets you can see accurately represent the person?
  • Are you 100% sure that you have found the right person?
Are you using professional or personal platforms?

LinkedIn, for example, may be useful when screening candidates as it is considered a professional platform. Generally, individuals include their job titles, summary of each role, outline their key skills and specify their qualifications; thus it can be a good tool for an employer to verify someone’s CV.

However, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are much more personal in nature and focus on connecting with friends and family. Will you find relevant information about their professional experience or how their skills lend themselves to a role by looking through their summer holiday pictures or reading their tweets?

Remember, you should not use social media sites to stalk candidates and dig as much ‘dirt’ up as possible, but find out targeted and relevant information that helps you consider their suitability for the role they applied to.

Are there privacy or data protection concerns?

Some applicants may feel that their privacy has been invaded if these searches have been conducted without their knowledge. However, employers argue their profiles on these social media websites are in the public domain - it is their responsibility to manage their privacy settings and it is their choice what information, photos and opinions they share.

At present, it is not clear how far a ‘right to privacy’ applies in respect of social media. However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development advises that to avoid the risk of legal claims, you should make applicants aware that you may carry out searches on their social media accounts. The applicant should also be given the chance to make comments on the accuracy of any discoveries you make, where those findings are part of the decision-making process.

It should also be remembered that information obtained through social media may also be subject to employers’ obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued guidance on pre-employment vetting.

Am I missing out on good candidates?

Remember, just relying on the information you have found on social media could mean you are missing out on the best candidates in the market. Don’t miss out on the best people for your business - focus on assessing an applicant’s suitability for the job and explore the areas set out in the job description, person specification and application form.

Do things change under the General Data Protection Regulations?

Guidelines put forward by EU data protection agencies state that employers should have a “legal ground” before checking up on social media accounts. The data they gather must be necessary and relevant to the performance of the job. There are non-binding recommendations, but they could be used to interpret the regulations when they come into force next May.

For further advice, please contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service on 0845 226 8393 and quote “British Sandwich Association” and your membership number.  Alternatively, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.