Redflag hunting: does social media screening do more harm than good?


Cybervetting, checking a candidate’s online presence, introduces additional biases to the recruitment process, says research. Do recruiters agree? And if you are going to do it, how can you do it responsibly?

A recent study has revealed the use of ‘cybervetting’ during recruitment introduces bias and moral judgement into the process.

Cybervetting is the practice of checking a candidate’s online presence, such as their social media profiles, to assess their suitability for a role or to see if they’d fit in with your company culture.

The US-based research paper, titled The hunt for red flags: cybervetting as morally performative practice, shows that the HR professionals surveyed thought cybervetting was a good way to assess for organisational fit, but they were also unwittingly influenced by their own biases.

It raises questions HR professionals and recruiters have grappled with since the inception of social media: does cybervetting have a place in the recruitment process? Is it a useful tool to appropriately assess a candidate? And if recruiters do choose to use it, how can it be done in an appropriate way?


As recruitment moves increasingly online it’s important you have the skills to recruit virtually. AHRI’s upcoming webinar about virtual recruitment on 17 March will help you gain these skills. Free for AHRI members.


What the research says

The researchers behind the paper spoke to 61 HR professionals, across a variety of industries, about how they used cybervetting during recruitment. 

About 70 per cent of respondents said they use some form of online screening. This included checking the applicant’s resume on job boards, as well as viewing their social media profiles. LinkedIn was the most commonly viewed social media site followed by Facebook. 

Many recruiters claimed wanting to ‘get to know’ the applicant as the reason for cybervetting. Respondents also believed it was a good way to manage the potential risk of hiring an unsuitable candidate, and to assess them for cultural fit.

Many respondents said they used cybervetting to compare a candidate’s resume with older resumes on job boards or what they’ve published on their LinkedIn profile.

However, some recruiters used the process to check for more ambiguous indicators of a candidate’s personality. 

For example, one respondent admitted that she would struggle to hire someone who “looks mean” in their photos. The respondent told researchers that, “If you have a mean photo, because I’m kind of a softie, I don’t like that. It doesn’t make me feel good. I won’t not send [the job candidate] on to the hiring manager because of that, but it will linger with me.” 

So even if the candidate is successful, this initial impression could have ongoing effects. For example, perhaps an employer would be less inclined to promote them due to the strong emotion they’ve attached to this candidate’s image in the recruitment stage.

Whether a candidate passed the cybervetting process often came down to the recruiters personal or moral feelings about the candidate. 

One recruiter said although her organisation “loves to do happy hour”, she would look negatively on a candidate who posted photos of themselves on social media with a drink in hand. 

The researchers said there is a disconnect with recruiters looking to see a candidate’s ‘real self’, but ultimately wanting them to project a professional image online. 

Of the respondents who didn’t participate in cybervetting, most said the process did little to inform a recruiter about the actual job-relevant skills the candidate possessed. 

One recruiter summed up this sentiment nicely, saying, “If I were hiring someone to work around my house, I wouldn’t check their [personal] Facebook page… I would rely primarily on my evaluation of the work that they’re going to be doing as well as the references they provide.”

The other pitfall cybervetting, particularly examining a candidate’s photos, is that it opens the door to explicit and implicit biases. 

Many respondents said they preferred profiles that showed the applicant engaged in an “active” and “energetic” lifestyle. This means older candidates or those living with disability could be overlooked.

The researchers suggested organisations that do cyber-vet job candidates make sure they create clear guidelines as to what recruiter should be looking for and which sites they can use. For example, restricting cybervetting to LinkedIn only.

One recruiter said although her organisation “loves to do happy hour”, she would look negatively on a candidate who posted photos of themselves on social media with a drink in hand.

What the experts say

Eliza Kirkby, regional director at Hays says she frequently uses cybervetting during recruitment, but mostly to cross check what is on a candidate’s CV.

“We look for any discrepancies between what a candidate has listed in their CV and their LinkedIn profile – if we do spot discrepancies, this is certainly something we will question them about.

“We also look for further information about the candidate’s skills and experience. Links to relevant work can provide a deeper understanding of a candidate’s suitability for a particular role.”

Ineke McMahon, director at P2P Learning & Development Academy, agrees with Kirkby and suggests all recruiters should be checking the LinkedIn profiles of candidates, particularly when multiple candidates seem evenly matched.

“[For] one role that I was recruiting, there were two candidates that the client liked equally, so we looked at their LinkedIn profiles together,” she says. 

“The client noticed that one candidate had received a glowing recommendation from a person that they [my client] highly respected. That candidate suddenly was the preferred candidate and, in my opinion, this got them the job.”

McMahon says the necessary level of cybervetting depends on the role you’re recruiting for. When recruiting for a politically sensitive role, a more thorough check of their posting history might be needed.

Kirkby points out that candidates rely just as much on their own online presence to attract employers when looking for work. In these instances, the cybervetting process is almost an assumed step in the mind’s of some candidates.

“For recruiters and employers, [social media] can connect you with potential recruits. For jobseekers, it can help you find jobs of interest, research potential employers, build your network and showcase your skills. 

“Given this, it has become a very universal tool, for both sides. So it’s natural then that recruiters and hiring managers will use any publicly available information they find online to check a candidate’s credentials.”

While employers are cybervetting candidates, candidates in turn are screening potential employers online profiles. 

As HRM has written before, candidates will check review sites such as Glassdoor to find out if the organisation fits their criteria. Some may decide not to apply for a position based on poor reviews. It is worth organisation’s considering how their employer brand is presented online and taking steps, such as encouraging happy employees to leave positive reviews, to secure that image. 

Quashing your biases

Nicole Gorton, director of Robert Half Australia, suggests three ways to conduct cybervetting without letting biases creep in. They include:

  1. Use the same process for every candidate – “This could be about checking the same platforms, only looking at activity dating back a set period of time, or outlining the considered criteria that might impact the recruitment process to avoid individual morality guiding decision-making about a person’s social activity.”
  2. Only use cybervetting as a value add, not a replacement for other parts of the recruitment process – “Meet with candidates, engage with them in conversation, speak to their references and form a holistic view of the candidate as a whole rather than singling in on any specific source.”
  3. Undertake unconscious bias training“The same bias that can potentially creep into social media assessment can also come into play at any other stage of the recruitment process, so it is important that we understand the triggers and errors we are prone to in order to address them from end-to-end.”

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Redflag hunting: does social media screening do more harm than good?


Cybervetting, checking a candidate’s online presence, introduces additional biases to the recruitment process, says research. Do recruiters agree? And if you are going to do it, how can you do it responsibly?

A recent study has revealed the use of ‘cybervetting’ during recruitment introduces bias and moral judgement into the process.

Cybervetting is the practice of checking a candidate’s online presence, such as their social media profiles, to assess their suitability for a role or to see if they’d fit in with your company culture.

The US-based research paper, titled The hunt for red flags: cybervetting as morally performative practice, shows that the HR professionals surveyed thought cybervetting was a good way to assess for organisational fit, but they were also unwittingly influenced by their own biases.

It raises questions HR professionals and recruiters have grappled with since the inception of social media: does cybervetting have a place in the recruitment process? Is it a useful tool to appropriately assess a candidate? And if recruiters do choose to use it, how can it be done in an appropriate way?


As recruitment moves increasingly online it’s important you have the skills to recruit virtually. AHRI’s upcoming webinar about virtual recruitment on 17 March will help you gain these skills. Free for AHRI members.


What the research says

The researchers behind the paper spoke to 61 HR professionals, across a variety of industries, about how they used cybervetting during recruitment. 

About 70 per cent of respondents said they use some form of online screening. This included checking the applicant’s resume on job boards, as well as viewing their social media profiles. LinkedIn was the most commonly viewed social media site followed by Facebook. 

Many recruiters claimed wanting to ‘get to know’ the applicant as the reason for cybervetting. Respondents also believed it was a good way to manage the potential risk of hiring an unsuitable candidate, and to assess them for cultural fit.

Many respondents said they used cybervetting to compare a candidate’s resume with older resumes on job boards or what they’ve published on their LinkedIn profile.

However, some recruiters used the process to check for more ambiguous indicators of a candidate’s personality. 

For example, one respondent admitted that she would struggle to hire someone who “looks mean” in their photos. The respondent told researchers that, “If you have a mean photo, because I’m kind of a softie, I don’t like that. It doesn’t make me feel good. I won’t not send [the job candidate] on to the hiring manager because of that, but it will linger with me.” 

So even if the candidate is successful, this initial impression could have ongoing effects. For example, perhaps an employer would be less inclined to promote them due to the strong emotion they’ve attached to this candidate’s image in the recruitment stage.

Whether a candidate passed the cybervetting process often came down to the recruiters personal or moral feelings about the candidate. 

One recruiter said although her organisation “loves to do happy hour”, she would look negatively on a candidate who posted photos of themselves on social media with a drink in hand. 

The researchers said there is a disconnect with recruiters looking to see a candidate’s ‘real self’, but ultimately wanting them to project a professional image online. 

Of the respondents who didn’t participate in cybervetting, most said the process did little to inform a recruiter about the actual job-relevant skills the candidate possessed. 

One recruiter summed up this sentiment nicely, saying, “If I were hiring someone to work around my house, I wouldn’t check their [personal] Facebook page… I would rely primarily on my evaluation of the work that they’re going to be doing as well as the references they provide.”

The other pitfall cybervetting, particularly examining a candidate’s photos, is that it opens the door to explicit and implicit biases. 

Many respondents said they preferred profiles that showed the applicant engaged in an “active” and “energetic” lifestyle. This means older candidates or those living with disability could be overlooked.

The researchers suggested organisations that do cyber-vet job candidates make sure they create clear guidelines as to what recruiter should be looking for and which sites they can use. For example, restricting cybervetting to LinkedIn only.

One recruiter said although her organisation “loves to do happy hour”, she would look negatively on a candidate who posted photos of themselves on social media with a drink in hand.

What the experts say

Eliza Kirkby, regional director at Hays says she frequently uses cybervetting during recruitment, but mostly to cross check what is on a candidate’s CV.

“We look for any discrepancies between what a candidate has listed in their CV and their LinkedIn profile – if we do spot discrepancies, this is certainly something we will question them about.

“We also look for further information about the candidate’s skills and experience. Links to relevant work can provide a deeper understanding of a candidate’s suitability for a particular role.”

Ineke McMahon, director at P2P Learning & Development Academy, agrees with Kirkby and suggests all recruiters should be checking the LinkedIn profiles of candidates, particularly when multiple candidates seem evenly matched.

“[For] one role that I was recruiting, there were two candidates that the client liked equally, so we looked at their LinkedIn profiles together,” she says. 

“The client noticed that one candidate had received a glowing recommendation from a person that they [my client] highly respected. That candidate suddenly was the preferred candidate and, in my opinion, this got them the job.”

McMahon says the necessary level of cybervetting depends on the role you’re recruiting for. When recruiting for a politically sensitive role, a more thorough check of their posting history might be needed.

Kirkby points out that candidates rely just as much on their own online presence to attract employers when looking for work. In these instances, the cybervetting process is almost an assumed step in the mind’s of some candidates.

“For recruiters and employers, [social media] can connect you with potential recruits. For jobseekers, it can help you find jobs of interest, research potential employers, build your network and showcase your skills. 

“Given this, it has become a very universal tool, for both sides. So it’s natural then that recruiters and hiring managers will use any publicly available information they find online to check a candidate’s credentials.”

While employers are cybervetting candidates, candidates in turn are screening potential employers online profiles. 

As HRM has written before, candidates will check review sites such as Glassdoor to find out if the organisation fits their criteria. Some may decide not to apply for a position based on poor reviews. It is worth organisation’s considering how their employer brand is presented online and taking steps, such as encouraging happy employees to leave positive reviews, to secure that image. 

Quashing your biases

Nicole Gorton, director of Robert Half Australia, suggests three ways to conduct cybervetting without letting biases creep in. They include:

  1. Use the same process for every candidate – “This could be about checking the same platforms, only looking at activity dating back a set period of time, or outlining the considered criteria that might impact the recruitment process to avoid individual morality guiding decision-making about a person’s social activity.”
  2. Only use cybervetting as a value add, not a replacement for other parts of the recruitment process – “Meet with candidates, engage with them in conversation, speak to their references and form a holistic view of the candidate as a whole rather than singling in on any specific source.”
  3. Undertake unconscious bias training“The same bias that can potentially creep into social media assessment can also come into play at any other stage of the recruitment process, so it is important that we understand the triggers and errors we are prone to in order to address them from end-to-end.”

Leave a reply

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