Companies hiring are always looking for a way to get an edge on the competition. One of the best ways to do this is by screening applicants’ social media profiles before extending them an offer, but some question whether they should be doing it. In short, they should — but not without considering the risks involved first.

The Pros of Screening Applicants on Social Media

Below are the benefits of screening applicants on social media.

Provides You With a Direct Link to Contact Candidates

Hiring isn’t always easy. You have to sift through hundreds of applications, and sometimes it can seem like there are too many qualified candidates.

However, social media gives HR reps a way to find out more about applicants. Once you’ve found someone who looks like a good fit, you can reach out to them directly on social media. This works best since it allows both parties to get to know each other better before making any commitments.

Identifies Qualified Candidates

If you’re only looking at resumes from people with a certain level of education or experience, it’s easy to miss out on someone who doesn’t fit that profile but could still be an excellent fit. By including social media as part of your screening process, you can cast a wider net and potentially find better candidates than would have been available otherwise.

Saves Time and Money

When deciding if an applicant is right for your business, social media can help you quickly get a sense of who they are, what they’re about and how well they will fit in with your team. It can also save you money by preventing errors in recruitment. When using traditional methods like resumes and interviews, you have to pay for each step of the process. With social media screening, it’s all done online — providing you with more freedom and flexibility at no cost to you.

The Cons of Screening Applicants on Social Media

Here are the drawbacks to consider when screening candidates on social media.

Unreliable Source of Information

Screening applicants’ profiles can be risky as it can be challenging to determine whether they are qualified for the role. Though social media gives you some insight into their personality and character, some people post about themselves in a way that can be deceiving. Even if they’re being honest, there’s always a possibility they’ve chosen to share something that doesn’t represent their overall personality or work ethic.

It Can Be Unethical

Screening applicants on social media can be unethical in various ways. For one, it may violate their privacy rights, especially if employers ask candidates for login credentials. This is against the law in over 20 states today.

Secondly, it can lead to the risk of discrimination. Any applicant can claim you saw information that shows their ethnicity, religion and private information — and they can claim you used that to make a final decision and launch a lawsuit.

May Increase Bias

Bias can occur when an employer screens an applicant for specific qualities, but their social media profile misrepresents their personality and information. During the screening process, this may lead the employer to make a swift decision about the applicant.

For example, an employer might look at a candidate’s Instagram profile and see they have posted pictures of themselves drinking alcohol or partying with friends. The employer may think this person would not fit in with their company culture or disrupt office harmony. If this kind of screening occurs regularly in an organization, it can tread the thin line between protecting company culture on the one hand and bias against people who are not like-minded or those with different lifestyles on the other.

What to Look for on Potential Candidates’ Social Media Profiles

If you are interested in screening applicants’ social media profiles correctly, consider implementing these tips below.

1. A Strong Network of Connections and Followers

Looking for applicants on social media with a strong network of connections is crucial because they are likelier to be honest, hard-working and trustworthy. When looking at the people in an applicant’s network, you can see the type of person they are, their interests and how they live. If you check their network, you can tell if they may be the right fit for the organization because it gives you an idea of who they like to interact with online.

2. An Active and Professional Presence

Suppose a candidate has a professional presence on social media. This will tell you much about who they are and how they fit into your company culture.

Having an active and professional presence on social media shows the person regularly engages with their community, which means they’re likely to be involved at your business. A lively social media presence can also mean they’re conscientious of their online reputation. This is important when looking for new hires who represent your organization well in public spaces like social media.

3. Questionable Content

A company’s reputation is a considerable part of its success and hiring the wrong people can have serious consequences. If you have an employee with questionable content, it can be a big mistake for your business. Even if the applicant may be good at their job, they might not be the best person to represent your organization if they’re posting inappropriate things on social media.

4. Inconsistencies Across Profiles

When looking for your next hire, looking for applicants on social media with inconsistencies across profiles is essential. These inconsistencies can help you weed out applicants with fake accounts or applicants who may try to lie about their experience. For instance, if they claim they graduated from MIT, but their LinkedIn profile says they went to a different school, this could be a red flag.

5. Evaluate the Person’s Tone and Attitude Toward Others

Evaluating an applicant’s tone is a way to assess their ability to communicate effectively, which is vital in any job. It can also reveal how well they fit in with their current team, how willing they are to take criticism, and whether or not they have an appropriate sense of humor.

If you have a candidate who seems perfect on paper but has an unprofessional attitude toward others — even if it’s over text — it may be best to pass them up. Not only will this person likely have trouble fitting in with your team, but they’ll also be hard to work with in general.

Using Social Media as a Hiring Tool

Many employers use social media to screen applicants because it can help them make better hiring decisions. Yet, while there are some ethical and legal concerns, screening social media profiles has become an accepted practice in most industries.

Of course, you’ll have to be aware that some social media profiles don’t accurately reflect the person applying for the job. Therefore, that is something to be mindful of when screening applicants’ social media profiles. Incorporate these tips into your screening strategy to make the most of recruiting people who fit within your company’s team and culture.

Zac Amos

Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers business technology, cybersecurity, and other trending tech topics. For more of his work, follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.