Social Media Use: A Cautionary Tale

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Social media has become a mainstay in the lives of higher education professionals. For many of us, it is a part of our daily ritual. Right after we hit the off button on the alarm clock, we immediately click on our social media accounts to see what happened in the world while we slept. We use them to connect with thought leaders in our profession, to seek and share information, to express our opinions and ideas, to connect and reconnect with colleagues, for entertainment and relaxation, and to know about others.  

In the world of recruitment, the use of Social Media “to know about others” has also become commonplace.  According to, 92 percent of companies use social media for recruitment. Three out of four hiring managers and recruiters check social media profiles, even if they're not provided as a part of candidates’ application materials. Additionally, one out of three companies rejected candidates based upon something found in their social media profiles.

One school of thought is that social media that hasn't been appropriately protected is open for public consumption. I mostly agree with this statement. After all, social media has been out there long enough for folks to be a little more savvy about how they utilize it. However, when we think about social media from a recruitment perspective, I think we have to enter this space with a more cautious perspective. 

For example, when accessing a candidate's social media pages, an employer will often learn whether that individual is part of a protected class (e.g., a photograph of an applicant may reveal gender, race, age, and/or disability). If you decide not to hire a candidate—even for a legitimate reason—after viewing his or her profile; simply having viewed such protected information could leave you vulnerable to claims of discrimination. Given that an in-person interview reveals the same information, as say “viewing a picture” on a computer, the best practice is to review social media pages after the in-person interviews. 

Jay Starkman, author of the article, “Avoid These Pitfalls When Using Social Media to Recruit Employees,” offers some great strategies that can be adopted by institutions to minimize risk when using social media in hiring:

  • Give applicants notice that your institution will review public social media postings.
  • Departmental or institutional HR professionals should conduct the social media search and limit it to information relevant to the job, and then provide the hiring authority with only job-related material. If your institution is small, then designate one appropriately trained individual to complete this task for all applicants.
  • Be consistent. Determine what search, if any, will be performed for a given position and conduct that same search for each candidate after the in-person interviews.
  • Do not ask for personal passwords or try to access private social media sites; only access public profile information. To date, 18 states bar employers from requiring or requesting job candidates and current employees to provide passwords, usernames, or access to a social media account that would reveal someone's private pages. Additionally, making such a request may violate the federal Stored Communications Act.
  • In the event that information is found that disqualifies an applicant, print and store such data since it could be useful in defending potential discrimination suits or other claims.
  • If your institution uses a third party to conduct social media checks, it could be considered a background check. In these instances, it is important to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and applicable state laws.

In a world where information is readily available via social media, you would be remiss, and some say, not doing your due diligence if you don’t access it. However, protect your institution, yourself, and candidates by having a clear plan and process for how you will utilize social media within your recruitment process. Better safe rather than sorry.  


Sources: Job image via Shutterstock
Starkman, J. “Avoid These Pitfalls when using social media to recruit employees.” 13 Nov. 2014, Web  10 January 2015 
HIRERIGHT. “3 Potential Pitfalls of Using Social Media in Your Talent Acquisition Program” 28, Oct. 2013, Web 10 January 2015

Ms. Shelia Higgs Burkhalter, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Baltimore, has worked in the field of higher education and student affairs for the past 20 years. She currently serves as the Chief Student Affairs Officer at UB.  Shelia has an MBA from the Sam M Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, a Master of Science in Education from Indiana University and a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication and Political Science from Southeast Missouri State University. Shelia has served NASPA in a variety of regional and national leadership roles for the past 16 year. For the past 5 years she has served The Placement Exchange as Co-Chair of Education and Resources, Co-Chair of Candidate Services and as Chair of TPE2014 in Baltimore. Shelia is currently serving as the Co-Chair of Employer Services for TPE2015 in New Orleans.   

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