Using social media in pre-employment checks

Many individuals now have an online profile and may be tempting to carry out online and social media searches as part of pre-employment screening. However, this approach can be highly problematic and  whilst social media can be a useful tool in attracting candidates, departments are advised against using social media or other online searches for the purpose of screening candidates.

In a few, very specific cases, an online search may be justified, such as where the employee will be a spokesperson for the University, or for posts with significant public exposure, representing the University in an official capacity. In any such cases departments should contact the University’s Security Services Vetting and Screening Administration team, who are able to offer a service  through a third party provider as part of their Higher Level Screening. This will ensure that findings are verified and relate to the correct individual, and that appropriate consent is given by the candidate.

Departments should be mindful of the following advice:

  • personal data should only be accessed  if it is relevant to the candidate’s suitability for the role and relates to the candidate’s personal capabilities, skills, education and experience
  • only the absolutely necessary personal information (no more than is needed), and information that is relevant to the job and is not excessive should be collected
  • social media searches should not be used as a general trawling exercise
  • reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the accuracy of any personal details accessed online
  • a distinction should be drawn between the use of social media for mainly private purposes and for mainly professional purposes. So, for example viewing a LinkedIn profile may be legitimate since this is an individual’s public, published professional profile but Facebook, which is primarily a social site, should not be viewed
  • information that is in the public domain regarding someone’s professional background can be used. For example profiles on other employers, HEIs or professional bodies websites may be viewed in order to verify information given in an application or CV
  • before online searches are conducted applicants should be advised that information about them might be gathered in this way
  • applicants should be given an opportunity to respond to any adverse findings from online searches, where they may be considered in the decision-making process
  • recruiting managers must take care not to inadvertently act in a manner that could be considered discriminatory, or otherwise unfair
  • any personal data gathered during the recruitment/screening process should be handled and retained in accordance with the University’s guidance on record-keeping and the GDPR and related UK data protection legislation