Cybervetting

Raelynn Randall

Table of Contents

Have you ever wanted to learn more about job candidates’ personal brand and how they will fit into your organization? Cybervetting is a tool to accomplish just that in 15 minutes or less.

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What is Cybervetting?

Hiring managers and HR professionals need to be creative when it comes to the recruiting and selection process. Cybervetting is a relatively new method for vetting potential job applicants. Also referred to as online vetting, cybervetting is defined as using online information to assess applicants or potential job candidates. Most often social media is used in the cybervetting process. Typically, cybervetting is used to evaluate behavior or determine if individuals are a “culture fit.” Many companies argue that assessing how individuals represent themselves on social media determines how they may represent the company once hired.

Should HR Engage in Cybervetting?

There are both benefits and downsides to utilizing cybervetting in the employee selection process. According to CareerBuilder (2018), 70% of employers use some form of social media screening or cybervetting in their recruiting and selection process. While the majority of employers use cybervetting, there are a few factors to consider when determining if your organization should utilize this tool.

The Benefits of Cybervetting

  • Analyze “authentic” behavior. Many employers argue that researching applicants through social media helps them discover the potential employee’s authentic self. The idea is that people hold themselves to higher standards in professional environments but are more willing to let loose online. Employers often use cybervetting to get a glimpse at an applicant’s real personality. While this notion may be only partially accurate, employers still value the insights they gain into applicant behavior.
  • Predict future actions. Recruiters who use cybervetting assume that understanding an individual’s authentic self will help them predict how they will behave in the future. One method for predicting future actions is related to personal branding. Social media and online searches are indicative of an employee or applicant’s personal brand. This in turn helps employers understand how individuals will act at work. For example, let’s say a manager is considering two applicants for a role and both candidates acted professionally during their interview. After a short online search, the manager finds that the first candidate regularly posts complaints about their last job on social media while the second maintains a professional attitude on social media. The manager may therefore be more inclined toward the second candidate. Additionally, many employers argue that how applicants represent themselves on social media directly correlates to how they will represent the company once hired.
  • Confirm qualifications. Employers use cybervetting to complete additional background research on potential applicants’ qualifications through references in social networks. LinkedIn is often the primary source for recruiters looking to confirm applicant qualifications online. Additionally, LinkedIn allows for recommendations to be viewed publicly on a profile. For example, if a job role requires customer service experience and a candidate has indirectly related experience, a LinkedIn recommendation may be able to convey the candidate’s customer service competencies to a recruiter. Many recruiters utilize social media recommendations and profiles to confirm the qualifications of potential applicants.
  • Identify “culture fit.” Many organizations search for candidates who will fit in with the organization or be a “culture fit.” Cybervetting allows recruiters to identify aspects of potential employees that will fit in with the organization’s culture. For example, if an organization values community service, they may appreciate it when their employees participate in volunteer work. In this case, candidates who share on social media that they are passionate about community service may be seen favorably by recruiters looking for “culture fit”.

The Downsides of Cybervetting

  • Bias. There are many types of workplace bias that cybervetting is incredibly susceptible to. Confirmation bias and affinity bias leave cybervetters incredibly vulnerable. Consider a situation where a manager loves basketball and as they cybervet job candidates, they feel a sense of connection to the applicant who also loves basketball. The manager is more likely to overlook some of the applicant’s weaknesses because they share something in common. This is referred to as affinity bias. On the other hand, confirmation bias occurs when a manager has an assumption about an applicant and uses information found on social media to confirm those assumptions. For example, if an applicant appears to be a people-oriented person during an interview, while cybervetting, the manager may seek out information to confirm this assumption rather than taking in information found online in an unbiased way.
  • Misinterpretation. It is becoming increasingly common for information to be misinterpreted on social media, and cybervetting is incredibly subject to interpretation. For example, an applicant may rarely post on social media except to highlight their yearly vacation to exotic places. A cybervetter may interpret that the individual is often on exciting vacations because that is all they find on social media. There are many other ways information can be misinterpreted on social media. People often put their best image forward on social media and their accounts often do not reflect their real-life situations. This begs the question, how reliable is cybervetting as a research tool?
  • Limited context. Contrary to popular belief, the internet is not all-knowing. Searching social media for answers will often result in disappointment. There is a myriad of challenges that cybervetters face when researching applicants online, including a lack of information on an individual and commonality of names so that it is nearly impossible to identify the right individual. Additionally, not everyone has social media accounts. It can be challenging to find complete information on anyone in the cybervetting process.
  • Invasion of privacy. Many applicants and employees feel that when organizations utilize cybervetting, they invade privacy. Although companies usually focus on publicly available information, employees still may feel that cybervetting violates social privacy norms. Many applicants may not even be aware that employers cybervet their candidates, so it may come as a surprise when their online information is used to determine whether or not they get a job.

How To Cybervet Potential Candidates

Step 1: Conduct a Google Search

Typically, the first step in cybervetting potential candidates includes a simple Google search. Sometimes useful content will appear without a deeper dive, but this is not always the case. If a candidate has a common name, it may be helpful to search their name and school (or other identifiable pieces of information) together in order to find the specific individual.

Step 2: Research the Candidates

Next, cybervetters use different avenues to research candidates. LinkedIn is a phenomenal resource to identify how candidates portray themselves professionally. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are often the next top choices for cybervetters. Other commonly used social media platforms include YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, Spotify, Discord, and WhatsApp.

Step 3: Spend 10-15 minutes per Candidate

Online research of candidates does not need to be a long and painful process. Some argue that cybervetting does not need to take longer than 10-15 minutes per candidate. It is entirely up to the manager, recruiter, or company to determine how much effort should be spent in the cybervetting process.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Cybervetting

Is cybervetting legal?
Yes, cybervetting is legal. Many argue that it is a breach of privacy, but cybervetting does not break privacy laws when cybervetters focus on public online content. It is not recommended to utilize information that is not open to the public.
If HR participates in cybervetting, should they inform the candidate during the interview that they looked them up online?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question and the answer depends on the organization. Many cybervetters do not inform candidates when they conduct these types of online searches. When determining if you should or shouldn’t inform the candidate, consider how they may react. They may feel their privacy is being violated if told or that the cybervetter is sneaking around behind their back if not told. Which is worse? You get to decide.
Raelynn Randall

Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.

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