Pooja B. Luthra, Group Chief HR Officer of Trident Group, who has also run her own HR consultancy firm, says it is common these days for most organisations to go for "social media screening" of candidates.
"Many of them are even rejecting candidates based on what they find on social media," she says. APAC President Manish Sinha of background verification company Sterling RISQ, which also conducts social media screening, says, "It is a very natural extension of the normal screening any company would do. You would typically check two aspects of a profile-minimum standards such as criminal history, education, employment background, as well as alignment with corporate culture."
He says many of his top high-volume clients are in India across telecom, media, insurance, consumer banking, staffing firms, accounting and audit firms. Power and gas, private equity and technology firms are also big on social media screening, he adds.
LinkedIn and Twitter are the usual suspects when it comes to the sites looked at, agree recruiters. But Facebook and Instagram are not entirely ruled out.
Sterling also looks at Pinterest, YouTube and news sources. Still others prefer peeking into software development platform GitHub, question-and-answer website Quora and corporate community knowledge base CiteHR as well to glean domain-related insights about the candidates. But all experts say they only look at publicly available information. However, they also agree that many organisations do resort to probing into private profiles and data scraping without consent.
Depending on the seniority of the role, the hiring manager and the organisation, the checking varies from a cursory glance at the websites to a full-blown analysis. Sterling, which uses technology, applies filters or keywords like drugs, misogynistic and violence, that throws up problematic content by the person, if any.
Used in various combinations and across volumes of data available online, says Sterling's Sinha, it becomes impossible to do just a manual check. "It has to first be done by a machine and then summarised for a human eye to look at." Overtly political/religious/militant views on social media sites are among the top offences in the eyes of recruiters.
The process assumes more significance for senior management and strategic positions where a hiring misstep works out to be a lot costlier. "If I do a wrong CEO hire, I could be bringing down the P&L and dragging down share prices a couple of notches. So, the impact is much higher," says Sushant Dwivedy, MD (India and the Philippines) at talent screening firm SHL.
The digging can go back as far as seven years, which Sterling considers the gold standard in any kind of data analysis. Luthra prefers breadth over depth, going back only a year across activities, giving candidates the benefit that they may have changed over the years.
But it's not always done with the intention of digging up dirt. "It's like getting an insurance policy. You would hope you don't need it but in the event that you do, you just feel terrible to not have done it," says Sinha.
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