Could social media vetting become just another stage of the recruitment process for SMEs?

“Celtic, yer a joke!#scum” AND “Woke up beside half a can of Tennents and a full pizza and more money than I came out with. I call that a success!”

Perhaps a reality TV or pop star? Well, many were surprised when it turned out to be Britain’s youngest MP in over 350 years.

Mhairi Black, now 20 years old, posted the tweets as an anonymous teenager and probably never expected them to resurface when she beat shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South to become the country’s youngest MP since 1667.

Despite making history for the right reasons, it’s evident that she, like many others are not exempt from the now common practice of the media trawling through historic social media posts and looking for slip ups to publish in order to humiliate their authors.

The media found plenty of colourful tweets, many of which contained expletives, and in hindsight, the young politician probably regrets ever publishing them.

Luckily for her on this occasion, the tweets weren’t taken too seriously, and her career is not in jeopardy. However, it does highlight the growing trend of social media becoming a ripe hunting ground for employers looking to vet the quality of candidates.

Employers are increasingly seeing the value of the social media when it comes to vetting potential employees. In particular Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can give you a really good feel of a candidate’s past, personality and suitability before you invite them to interview.

Social media can be a great asset when searching for talent and future rising stars. It can show you whether candidates have a genuine interest in a sector, reinforcing their commitment to a potential career. However, if tweets are punctuated with foul language and or offensive opinions, it’s probably wise to approach that candidate with caution, particularly if they will have a client facing role.

A recent survey found that 74 per cent of UK managers regularly look at candidates’ Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles to see if they display behaviour that is unsuitable for jobs. Notably, 68% had rejected a candidate based on social media postings.

There is of course huge scope for misusing social media profiles and, in many situations, there’s a blurred line between what constitutes a person’s right to express themself as an individual, and what could be perceived as rude, derogatory or even defamatory.. The type of off-the-wall humour some might get away with down the pub can open your organisations’ reputation up to serious risks when posted online.

My advice?

Social media presents many opportunities and can be very useful for business owners when it comes to finding talent. The best candidates will combine relevant posts about the industry they work in or wish to enter, interact with potential employers and show off a bit of personality through day-to-day musings.

It could be that a candidate has a glowing CV, impressive recommendations and extra curricular activities, but a not-so-professional social media account should sound a note of caution. As a business owner, you must consider your employees’ social media personas as ultimately it could negatively affect your business.

Social media has become a bit of a minefield but it isn’t going away. My advice is, if you’re shocked or offended by a tweet by a prospective candidate, trust your gut instinct.

I wish good luck to new MP Mhairi in her role, but let’s hope her case serves as a warning to others. Nobody, especially prospective employers, want to read your drunken and offensive opinions.

The golden rule of social media use for everybody should be: don’t post anything unless you would be happy for your mother or future employer to read it.

For employers, I highly recommend taking the time ahead of any formal interviewing process to review candidates’ social accounts and answer the following question – would you hire that individual based on their current social presence?

Social media vetting is fast becoming another stage of the recruitment process, and can probably save you time and money in the long run – or at least help you avoid making costly mistakes to your company’s reputation.


About Hugh Hitchcock

Hugh Hitchcock is a director at DJM Solicitors, a commercial law firm providing legal services to clients across the UK and Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Japan. His career spans 23 years spent in media and corporate law, and he specialises in dispute resolution. He previously spent six years at a leading media firm that acted for Elton John and The Beatles' record label Apple.