A promising candidate applies to your camp. You are hopeful that this individual has the credentials to join your summer staff. You send an email to set up an interview. While you await a response, you type the candidate’s name into Facebook and look them up on Instagram. Sound familiar?  

As COVID-19 has driven the world indoors, more people are turning to social media for news, entertainment, and human connection. More than ever, candidates are documenting their lives on social media and exploring new platforms like TikTok and Twitch as outlets to express themselves. As the social media ecosystem grows, there are more places to view candidates online — but also more risks.

Social media can be a helpful tool for evaluating candidates. However, it must be used with specific intention and discipline. If misused, social media can quickly add bias and discrimination to the hiring process. Following are some tips for recognizing and avoiding these harmful practices.

Social media can be used as a tool to gain a complete picture of a candidate, but this needs to be done thoughtfully, strategically, and with strict governance. Social media is best used to rule candidates out, not rule them in

Consider these three "rule out" areas to look for when doing a social check:

  • Violence or hate speech
  • Drug use 
  • Excessive drinking 

This exclusion criteria keeps the focus on evaluating one critical attribute required to work at camp — the ability to serve as a positive role model. You are not looking to see how sporty the candidate is, what their political views are, how they style their hair, what their relationship status is, who they are friends with, or what they look like. 

The intention is not to try to trap a candidate in a "gotcha" moment either. Should you rule out a candidate who is holding a red solo cup in one picture from two years ago? Likely not. It is important to remember that Generation Z conducts their lives on social media in a way no previous generation has. What you’re really evaluating here is perspective employees’ judgment and how they choose to represent themselves online. 

Avoid the temptation of using social media as a means to determine if a candidate is a good "cultural fit." This is not a recommended hiring practice and inherently introduces bias into the recruiting process. While there is nothing intrinsically illegal about looking candidates up on social media, judging candidates on attributes other than skills and experience could be considered discrimination, which may be illegal. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) states that if any of the elements below are considered in the hiring decision, you are breaking the law (Federal Trade Commission, n.d.):

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Citizenship
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Weight
  • Marital status

Because bias can be both conscious and unconscious, it’s best to set yourself up for success by establishing parameters for social media checks. 

Pro Tips

Follow these tips to hold yourself accountable to a bias-free social media check:

  1. Establish standard evaluation criteria, such as evidence of violence or hate speech, drug use, or excessive drinking.
  2. Designate one person on your team to conduct all social media checks. By design, this person should be removed from day-to-day recruitment, so that individual is an independent evaluator. The designated person won’t interview candidates or have prior knowledge of their backgrounds. The evaluator may not even know the position the candidate applied for. This helps to keep the check fair and subjective. A safe alternative is to use a third-party background screening service that adheres to FCRA guidelines.
  3. Use a pass/fail system based on your evaluation criteria. Feedback from the independent "social checker" should be concise and read something like this:
    "No violence or hate speech, drug use, or excessive drinking. Pass."
    "Excessively drinking alcohol in multiple pictures. Fail."
  4. Conduct checks as the final stage of the process. The candidate should already have completed interviews and met all qualifications before being looked up online. 

If you can follow the "rule out, not rule in" tips outlined here, social media can be a helpful tool to eliminate unqualified candidates. If you are using it to evaluate elements other than violence or hate speech, drug use, or excessive drinking, remove it from your process entirely.

Aaron Lyon (he/him) and Esther Eisenhard (she/her) are the founders of CampHire, a recruitment and staffing agency for summer camps. They take the stress out of hiring by sourcing highly qualified candidates that embody the camp spirit.
Looking for assistance with recruiting for your camp? Email esther.eisenhard@camphire.com for more information.