An Employee’s Guide to Social Media Background Checks

Social media and online presence are a growing part of our culture and how we connect with people. For potential job candidates, this means that if you have profiles online, they’re fair game for an employer. Social media background checks are growing in popularity; employers want to see the kind of person you are outside of the office. Whether it's at a big or small business, your social media and social networking sites have the power to secure you a job—or prevent you from being hired. Learn how to prepare yourself for a social media background check as an employee or job candidate.

What is a social media background check?

Social media background checks have grown in popularity since social media sites were first launched. A social media background check, or social media screening, is when an employer reviews an employee or potential employee's social media accounts in order to determine whether they're a good fit for the company. They can vary in depth; some employers only glance at a candidate's social media profiles with a Google search, while others go through their entire posting history and digital footprint.

How often do employers perform social media background checks?

A 2023 survey found that 91% of employers currently use social media as part of their hiring process in some way, whether it be to recruit or screen candidates. Furthermore, of those that screen candidates’ social media accounts, more than half have found content that caused them not to hire the candidate. Depending on your job, social media can have an incredible amount of weight in an employer’s hiring decision.

This is because many people feel comfortable posting personal information on social media—content that can’t be or won’t be included on a resume. Companies use social media to get a more complete picture of job applicants.

Some potential employers will ask outright for a job candidate’s social media handles and let you know that they conduct social media searches. However, if a company doesn't ask, this does not mean they won't investigate your accounts.

What social media sites do employers check?

There is no concrete list of the types of social media sites that an employer will look at. Any profile you have, whether it be more personal like an Instagram profile or professional like a LinkedIn profile, can be checked. Some employers will only look at your Facebook account; others will do a thorough check of your entire online presence.

That being said, according to a survey done by the human resources firm Paychex, Facebook and LinkedIn are the most common sites that hiring managers check, followed by X (also known as Twitter) and Instagram. But if there's concerning content on any of your accounts, it's better to archive or delete it instead of taking the risk. Make sure your accounts for all of the following sites are appropriate and clean:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • X
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
Hands using a laptop to get on social media

Red flags for recruiters

An applicant's social media should reflect who they are. However, there are a few things that will likely be red flags if a recruiter finds them on a candidate's social media account.

  • An unprofessional profile photo. Your Instagram is not your LinkedIn, but any profile picture on your social media pages should still be tasteful. Pick a photo that accurately portrays who you are. Don't choose a photo of you at a party, committing a crime, or being otherwise unprofessional; this is an immediate concern for hiring managers. Remember that anyone can see your profile picture, even with a private account. Recruiters will always be able to see your profile photos, so make them count.
  • Discrimination or bullying in posts or comments. Companies want to hire employees who represent the company brand well. If you post hateful messages or pictures online, or attack other users in your comment section, employers will not respond well. Hatefulness, cruelty, or arrogance are not character traits that any company wants to promote.
  • Excessive drinking or recreational drug use. For obvious reasons, never post any illegal activity online. Even if you are above the legal drinking age or have a medical marijuana card, it's not a good idea to advertise your drinking or drug habits on your social media accounts. Keep your personal life private, both for the sake of your job search and your privacy.
  • Discrepancies. When employers conduct social media background checks, they do so to learn more about potential candidates and see who they are beyond the resume. Recruiters look for discrepancies between the person you claim to be in the office and the person you appear to be online. This applies to both facts and character traits. If you said you went to Harvard and then posted with your community college alumni group, that will be flagged; similarly, if you seemed kind in person but follow hate pages online, recruiters take notice.

Should I delete my social media accounts for job searches?

Although deleting your account may seem like an easy fix if you don’t want employers searching you up, this can reflect very poorly on a potential job candidate. First, it's possible to learn how to find deleted social media accounts; deleted accounts still show up in Google searches, so this isn't a comprehensive solution. Additionally, according to a survey from Business News Daily, forty-seven percent of employers would not call a candidate for an interview if they can’t find them online. Deleted accounts make it appear as if a candidate has something to hide.

If you don't want potential employers to view your accounts, it's best to make them private. An employer can still ask you to view your social media accounts. But if you use a private account, it means they can’t check up on you without your knowledge.

As the presence of companies on social media grows, social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and X can even be helpful when contacting a company you'd like to work for. Say you're someone with a large personal social media following and want to do a brand deal, for example. Reaching out via instant messaging in real time can help you connect with the right people.

Social media is powerful, and what you post online says a lot about who you are as a person. Make sure that when an employer sees you online, they see content that shows off your skills and makes you look like an excellent fit for any company.

Using social media to your professional advantage

The idea of a potential employer viewing your social media accounts doesn’t have to be concerning. Social media can be an asset or a liability to your job search. As long as the content you post isn’t inappropriate, mean or unfavorable, it’s fine to continue posting as normal.

However, popular social networks like Facebook and the site formerly known as Twitter can also be fantastic tools to help you secure a job position. Think of social media as a casual resume. You want to show an employer that you are a well-rounded and intelligent individual with a wide range of skills. You want them to know that you will go above and beyond in the position, but also fit right in with your coworkers.

There are many ways to present this idea through social media postings. Think of your accounts as a marketing strategy. You're using a form of digital marketing to advertise your talents and secure yourself a position where you will shine.

Frequently asked questions

Can a social media background check find deleted accounts?

No, a social media background check will not show results for deleted accounts. Though nothing is ever really gone from the Internet, you don't need to worry about your employer finding the Twitter fan account you made as a teenager. If you've recently deleted your social media accounts, however, note that those pages don't disappear right away. Sites such as Facebook take up to 90 days to fully clear your pictures and posts. This means those things may still show up in a social media search.

Can background checks see private social media?

A social media check will bring up any private social media accounts. However, it won't show what's on them if the account is private. That being said, sometimes pictures or posts from private accounts will show up in a Google search. It's still safer to clear any potentially concerning contents from your accounts.

Do background checks show social media?

Social media accounts don't usually show up on background checks. However, employers can easily find social media accounts on their own by using your name, email address, or phone number.