The One Thing You Need to Do When Screening Job Candidates

The old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is complicated in recruiting. You get a resume and a cover letter. And that’s it. Based on those two documents, you have to judge candidates without getting to know them first. 

But more and more, hiring managers are turning to social media for a deeper look at candidates. Vetting applicants based on their LinkedIn profiles, in particular, is becoming the norm. 

A national survey conducted by Harris Poll confirms that the majority of recruiters use social media to research applicants. In digital industries like IT, it’s up to a whopping 76 percent. 

Here’s why: checking out someone’s online presence allows you to “screen” a candidate before an interview. Because it’s a relatively new strategy, doing it efficiently and effectively is not a given. We broke the process down into three key parts to help you make quick and easy screening decisions during the hiring process: 

1. Identify the Relevant Elements of a Candidate's Online Presence

How to assess the online presence of a candidate depends on your industry and the specific role you’re working to fill. No two jobs are exactly alike — the more you’re able to account for those differences while vetting candidates, the better the results of your search process.

If you’re hiring a growth marketer, you'd likely want to see high engagement on Twitter and a significant following. Before you dig into social media, make a quick “what-to-look-for” list. Take a few extra minutes to describe the key elements of a successful candidate’s social media accounts as related to the position. 

If you’re looking for a graphic designer, however, you probably want to see clear examples of current work on an active Dribbble account. For a lot of positions, portfolios like these are even more important than a resume. 

Kelsey Schelling recruits client-facing employees for PPL Labs. She doesn’t get stuck on the number of followers or the frequency that the candidate uses social media channels; instead, she leverages LinkedIn to evaluate the quality of a candidate. As she rightly sums up:

Coming from a website company where all of our work is online, I don’t want people who aren’t particularly active on social media to be discouraged from applying for a position they are interested in. You don’t need to have a thousand Twitter followers to be a good fit.

Schelling wisely recognizes that Twitter isn’t relevant to her search, but it might help another recruiter with a different purpose.

2. Recognize Red Flags

Knowing what to look for in an online profile is key, but understanding common detractors is just as important. Regardless of the specific role or industry, there are a few universal red flags that pop up when scanning people’s online profiles: 

  • A blurry, grainy profile picture
  • Failure to update information
  • Sparse details under each heading
  • Spelling errors or sloppiness
  • Inconsistency with a resume 

Each of the red flags listed above fail to meet basic expectations for a LinkedIn profile. Schelling summarizes why it all matters: 

The amount of detail someone puts into their LinkedIn profile — does it have a professional picture, has it been recently updated, are there job descriptions beyond the job title — alludes to the fact that this person pays attention to detail and recognizes the value of portraying their relevant skills to the best of their ability.

An up-to-date, comprehensive profile reflects an investment in a person’s career and a willingness to follow through; both of which are promising attributes in a candidate.

In addition to the red flags listed above, inappropriate or bigoted comments are absolutely unacceptable. In the digital age, this kind of behavior is more prevalent than you might think — and it’s better to avoid it from the get-go if you see it in an applicant’s LinkedIn profile. Candidates who display a lack of empathy or regard for others online are likely to lead to a toxic work environment and cause legal headaches down the line.

3. Consider The Candidate’s Personality

One of the most disappointing things about a traditional resume is that it’s impossible to get a feel for someone's personality. The document should be skimmable, clear, and brief, often at the expense of a personal touch. 

Social media networks can help fill that gap, giving you a glimpse into a person’s character. Even LinkedIn offers a more casual format than a resume. As resume coach Jane Heifetz summarizes in Harvard Business Review, “It gives you the opportunity to present yourself as a living, breathing human being.” 

Read through the initial summaries of candidates on LinkedIn. Look for candidates who present themselves as human beings as well as professionals, noting their experience while speaking about their personality in broader terms.

Aja Frost, a marketer and writer for HubSpot, strikes this balance with a candid LinkedIn summary. She describes herself as a “content geek,” and shares her accomplishments while also highlighting her interests outside of work. 

Ideally, you want to hire people who bring their whole selves to work. Candidates like Aja who are open and self-aware are likely to make a great first impression when you bring them into an interview, too. 

Another thing to look at is LinkedIn recommendations from former colleagues. These speak to the heart of who someone is at work, and give you a sense of how they would perform in the role you are hiring for. 

Evaluating the online profiles of candidates gives you an edge as a hiring manager. Following the three steps we've outlined here will give you a deeper look into a person’s experience, professionalism, and personality without sacrificing the efficiency of the screening process.