In the United States, there are federal and state laws in place to prevent discriminatory employment practices. It’s against the law for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of physical characteristics, and generally, interview questions around physical characteristics are illegal for employers to ask.
In June, ResumeBuilder.com surveyed 1,013 employees in roles where they make hiring decisions (referred to in this write-up as hiring managers) to find out how frequently they use social media to evaluate candidates, and whether or not they use social media as a tool to find answers to questions they can not legally ask.
- 74% of hiring managers say they use social media to screen candidates
- Of this group, 55% say they look at social media to ensure the candidate is a good culture fit
- 68% of hiring managers use social media to find answers to illegal interview questions
- 85% of those who screen using social media have passed on candidates due to information obtained
3 in 4 hiring managers use social media to evaluate candidates
As part of the evaluation process, 31% of hiring managers say they ‘alway’ look at candidates’ social media, while 44% say they ‘sometimes’ do, and 13% say they ‘rarely’ do. Only 12% of hiring managers say they never view candidates’ social media as part of the evaluation process.
The practice of looking at candidates’ social media is ‘definitely’ acceptable at their company according to 41% of respondents, while 36% think it is. A smaller percentage (6%) don’t believe it’s acceptable, and 2% know that it’s not. An additional 14% are unsure if it’s considered an acceptable practice at their company.
The majority (57%) of hiring managers who use social media as part of their evaluation process say they view candidates’ social media before the interview, while 43% say they typically view it afterward.
Facebook is the most commonly viewed social media, with 83% choosing this answer. Additionally, a number of hiring managers look at Instagram (50%), Twitter (31%), and TikTok (24%). We did not ask about their use of LinkedIn.
The most common reason among hiring managers for using social media as part of their evaluation process is to ensure the candidate is a good culture fit (55%). Additional reasons include to look for illegal activity (45%), satisfy curiosity (34%), and to see if the candidate is invested in their career (29%).
1 in 6 hiring managers ‘always’ look at candidates’ social media in search of answers to illegal interview questions
For a large number of hiring managers, there is more nefarious intent behind checking a candidate’s social media.
Of those who say they view candidates’ social media, 16% say they always and 38% say they sometimes check the accounts in order to obtain information about a candidate that is not allowed to be asked in an interview. An additional 24% say they rarely do this, and only 22% report that they never do this.
The most common information that is illegal to ask about that hiring managers are seeking to find out is the candidates age (37%) followed by their political views (26%), which is illegal in the public sector and can trigger discrimination suits in the private sector, gender identity (19%), marital status (19%), race/ethnicity (17%), disability status (17%), sexual orientation (11%), religion (11%), and pregnancy status (9%).
“Job applicants need to be cognizant that everything they post publicly can be found by a potential employer, who may base hiring decisions off this information, or even a current employer,” says Stacie Haller, chief career advisor at ResumeBuilder.com.
“One safeguard of course is making your accounts private. But even if anyone feels that they have been discriminated against in the hiring process, it may be appropriate to consult an attorney.”
8 in 10 decided not to hire someone based on social media findings
Based on information they find out about candidates on social media, 13% say they frequently pass on candidates, while 35% say they sometimes do, and 37% say they rarely do. Only 16% say information obtained from social media never leads them to pass on candidates.
The most common information hiring managers obtained that led them to pass on a candidate is signs of unprofessional behavior (58%) and illegal activity (47%).
Additionally, hiring managers admit to passing on candidates due to learning their age (19%), politics (14%), race/ethnicity (13%), sexual orientation (11%), gender identity (11%), marital status (10%), disability status (10%), pregnancy status (8%), and religion (7%).
“In my years of recruiting, it is mostly at smaller companies where people are not properly trained or don’t have proper oversight, that you see illegal questions being asked during the interview process. I have had to often counsel hiring managers on this very issue. They ask me questions about candidates, which would be illegal to ask directly to a candidate and are discriminatory in nature, in hopes to find out information about a candidate that is not at all relevant to their ability to perform well at the job. I have to inform them that these questions are discriminatory and often illegal,” says Haller.
“However, even if hiring managers already know or learn it’s illegal to ask certain questions, it doesn’t mean they won’t resort to finding the information elsewhere. Choosing not to hire a candidate based on finding answers to questions they could not is extremely unethical and grounds for legal action.”
This online poll was commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted by SurveyMonkey on June 1, 2023. Respondents consist of a national sample of 2,286 employed Americans aged 18-64.
Respondents were screened to ensure they were a hiring manager with primary responsibilities or someone involved in decisions about hiring employees but not a primary decision maker. The combined incidence rate was 47% and 1,013 respondents completed the full survey.
Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data for this survey have been weighted for location using U.S. census regional information in order to reflect the demographic composition of the United States. Learn more about SurveyMonkey’s methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.