How To Screen: Executives

Today's blog marks the third entry in our series on what to expect during social media screens. Each age group and level of work experience requires a specialized level of scrutiny that is beneficial for both employers and their prospective candidates. People use social media differently depending on their age and the nuances of that use can be hugely important in the hiring process. This week we are taking a look at what to expect when you are screening candidates for senior level positions; this is typically for people ages 50 to 65. According to a Pew research poll, 64 percent of these folks use social media. There's certainly a stereotype that because people are above 50, they either don't use social media or aren't well versed in it. Don't make that mistake; screening these people can be just as relevant, as we found these people are just as technologically versed as their middle aged counterparts. There are a couple of points to remember: the first is that red flags on social media for these people are low probability. It's likely that they are old enough to have good judgment and a lifestyle (especially if they are applying for a senior position) lacking an online life full of alcohol, inappropriate posts, or inflammatory thoughts. But that actually makes it trickier and brings us to our second point: this group is extremely high risk. Their flags carry more weight due to their age andm\ a large aquantity of posts alarming, and points to a lack of judgment and a projection of a poor performance as a senior leader in your office.


Let's first look at the probability. You should screen these people like you would your younger, mid-level candidates. If they have photos of alcohol or drugs, or a bunch of bad language or inflammatory political posts, it probably tells you more about their personality than it might for a millennial. Somebody having a glass of wine in a profile picture is probably nothing, but if they have a bunch of instagram posts where they are taking shots at a club, at age 58, you might want to ask a few questions. According to Pew Research, people over 50 use Facebook (61 percent of them in America) over 3 times more than they do any other site or app. Thus, that is where you'll find the majority of information. However, simply because of their age, it's unlikely you will find more red flags than you might for younger people, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth it to try.


Social media imprints seem to get smaller as we look across the age spectrum, but that means they carry more weight. We expect a lot of senior level workers, as leaders and mature, thoughtful people who contribute to our companies both in and out of the office. So that would make a red flag like cyberbullying or discrimination more alarming, and a potential liability down the road. You might be able to forgive this behavior case-by-case in younger candidates, but if you see someone in their sixties who is posting some horrible thing on Facebook, that's nothing short of a threat to avoid.


The dynamic of screening senior level people comes down to the low probability/ high risk quandary. It may seem like screening is less necessary, but the weightiness and potential ramifications for your company, on a cultural and legal level, are too much to avoid. Careful, nuanced scrutiny where you're thinking about someone's age and experience is the most efficient way to manage your screening and hiring processes.

How To Screen: Mid-Level Employees

This week's blog is the second entry in our series about what to expect when you're thinking about conducting social media screens. We have found that it is important to delineate the differences between how to screen people based on their age, levels of work experience, and social media use; some of those differences are not immediately evident and available, but it's important to dig deep so you get the most valuable and useful information about your candidates.


Today's article concerns screening mid-level employees; this mainly covers people ages 30-49, although there is some fluctuation in that range. When it comes to social, this is a relatively difficult group to understand, and from a hiring standpoint, we expect a great deal more of responsibility and maturity from older people, so the expectations in screening their public online profiles and content may be different.


Why are they so difficult to understand? Well, mid-level employees are typically at the beginning of middle age, which means they're young enough to use and understand almost all social media, but old enough to feasibly understand its consequences in a hiring process. When someone who is 22 has a bunch of pictures of them drinking, we may not pay that too much mind as they are just out of college; but when someone who is 41 has a dozen photos of themselves getting drunk or around drug paraphernalia, that's more of a red flag. Also, most of your data on midlevel people will be on facebook; according to Pew Research polls, 79% of them use Facebook, and only about a third are on Instagram, while a fifth of them are on Twitter.  You can observe patterns of quantity or frequency of suggestive or inappropriate facebook photos, for example, to see if a candidate might be a binge drinker. Furthermore, if they have a few inflammatory tweets, it might be less forgivable than someone who is only a few years removed from being a teenager, and may in fact be more illustrative of who they are as a developed person. 


The other reason this is a difficult age group to analyze is that we have different expectations of them than other people, some that are perhaps difficult to qualify. We expect our midlevel employees to assume a greater degree of leadership and responsibility in the office, both vocally and by example. If you see that someone's Facebook profile is full of curse words or sexual innuendo, you might be worried that they would set a poor example in the office, or that their presence might be toxic for your culture. Again, we see that our analysis might be less forgiving for midlevel employees. 


In essence, midlevel employees who are in their thirties and forties will probably have a much smaller social media footprint than their younger entry-level millennial counterparts. Yet, because we imbue these candidates with higher expectations for leadership and maturity, we should analyze their social media background checks with a greater degree of scrutiny and caution.

How To Screen: Entry Level/Millennial Employees

Today marks the first entry in our July blog series about what to expect when you're thinking about conducting social media screens. Every level of employee, from entry-level college kids to experienced executives, are candidates for screening, but the calculus for how to screen them and what to expect varies by their age and work experience. 


Our first blog concerns screening the millennial, entry-level demographic. It can be incredibly difficult to even imagine how large the social media footprint is for most of these young folks, especially considering that, according to a Pew Research Poll, nearly 90% of people 18-29 are active in some form of social media, and have been since elementary school. There are a few cardinal rules to remember with this group. The first is that you should expect a lot of noise; you might find a kid with twenty thousand tweets and content filled with alcohol and bad language. These people are usually right out of college, and this behavior is more normalized and permissible in their generation. Sensible scrutiny is a virtue in conducting these screens. The second rule, which applies to all levels of candidates, is that content pertaining to bigotry, violence, or crime carries the most weight. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it bears reiterating.


In terms of overall usage for teens and young adults aged 12-24, Instagram is the most used, followed by Twitter and Facebook. It's important to cull all these sources and more, including Snapchat and Tumblr, to find red flags and a holistic picture of the millennials you are screening. Not every piece of "negative" evidence is a determinant factor in who the person is and how they will behave as an employee. You want to be able to figure out what is relevant for the people you are screening, as it pertains to the job they're applying for. If you found that someone tweeted about drugs two times five years ago, does that really say much about them as an employee?


These entry level people are much more likely to have a massive social media presence than any other group, given their age. This might seem like a positive but because of all the noise, it actually makes the search much more difficult. That's why it's important to have a measured analysis of whatever results come up. Figure out where you draw the line, and what matters to you as a business. Consistent values go a long way in navigating the milieu of millennial social media content. 


In conducting background checks of young people, we tend to find the most troubling content, but that is usually a quantity problem; they've simply posted more than any other age group, having been active on social media since childhood. Along with that, youthful judgment may yield more problematic posts or pictures. Entry level employees will hopefully be with your company for a long time, so you want to screen and hire intelligently; just remember that also means taking their footprint with a grain of salt.

Sexism In Silicon Valley

The notion that the startup world has a sexism problem is not a new one. But a recent string of controversies has rocked the tech industry, including news of sexual misconduct against Justin Caldbeck, the co-founder of Binary Capital, a prominent VC firm, and allegations that Uber is internally awash with unchecked sexual harassment and gender inequality. These stories shed light on unacceptable behavior by powerful people in tech, and a generally sexist, macho culture.

These characteristics can be difficult to identify in people until it’s too late

For an industry that prides itself on risk taking, problem solving, and disruption, Silicon Valley and the tech world at large have done surprisingly very little about their sexism problem. Yet a lot of these internal issues are, quite simply, rooted in personnel. Working with competent people who have no demonstrable history of sexism or problematic behavior should be a priority, whether you're hiring them, collaborating with them, or funding them. That’s why 60% of US companies are now turning to social media screening as a way to identify these potential issues. But often, these characteristics can be difficult to identify in people until it's too late. So many companies, even those as big and as successful as Uber, are susceptible in sexism in the workplace at the highest levels, a toxicity which recently contributed to the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick. Uber's future is certainly unknown.

In some cases, like Binary Capital, sexual misconduct was thoroughly crippling. The allegations against Caldbeck led to investors suspending funds for the firm, effectively ruining the company's image. 

Evolution within the tech industry starts with creating a more equal and safe environment at every company, with accountability at every level. The sexism problem can also be countered by hiring more women; TechWorld reports that only 7% of VC partners are female. That's a stark figure which exemplifies how a sexist culture develops. Furthermore, it's important for companies to take advantage of screening or background checks so they can know if a potential employee or executive has a history of problematic behavior. It can be difficult to pinpoint these characteristics in people, but in the interest of protecting companies and most importantly, people, it is necessary.


SHRM on Social Media Screening in 2017

Policies and practices for human resources are ever-changing, with hiring decisions increasingly based on social media screening and aggregate data.  While the human element is still a pervasive factor in hiring, we’ve seen an indisputable rise in online tools to screen people. According to CareerBuilder, social media screening has gone up by 500% since 2006, with 60% of employers checking peoples’ online profiles during the recruiting and hiring process. This number will only rise. And now, for the first time, the industry has policies on how to do social screening. This is a big deal.

The release of these guidelines is a huge development for the support of social media screening

For several years, HR departments have had the tools of social screening at their disposal but lacked a consistent framework for applying them. Now, thanks to an industry authority, we finally have the beginnings of a policy to follow. The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently released a report on “2017 Employment Screening Trends” which provides some ideas for best practices. It states “more organizations will develop formal policies for how searches will be executed, and who will conduct them and how the information will be reviewed”. The release of these guidelines is a huge development for the support of social media screening, particularly by third-party services like Fama.

The fact that SHRM is voicing support for screening is not only a momentous occasion for us and our industry; it also says a lot about where HR is going. Social screening is becoming not only the norm; it’s now one of the most important criteria in hiring. HR requires the same scrutiny as it did before the social media age. This means transparency, compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and consistent, precise criteria that lets you scan for job-related factors on candidates’ social media profiles that safeguards you and your potential hires from discriminatory, unethical behavior. Specifically, SHRM recommends working with a third-party screening service to protect against subjective bias and legal risk. These vendors, including Fama, will only present information relevant to the search and in compliance with FCRA.

In following these new guidelines you can stand out as leader in your field

Technology is outpacing the law here, and it’s important to stay ahead of the curve, not only in the industry, but at your company, and within your department. We can’t understate how crucial this development is; these guidelines are a signal in the HR industry that social screening is more important than ever. In following these new guidelines you can stand out as leader in your field, with an edge on your competitors and the peace of mind in knowing that you are following best practices and protecting potential and employees and your own organization in the hiring process. Let us know if you want to talk more about this changing HR climate and what you can do to remain ahead of the pack, and what we can do to help.