How to research candidates online


 In paragraph 215 of the new KCSIE guidelines, which came into effect on 1st September, schools and trusts carry out an "online search (including social media) as part of their due diligence on the shortlisted candidates." Conducting in conjunction with adequate DBS checks, a search should only be used to find any "incidents or issues" involving the staff that can then be discussed with the candidate during the next round of interviews.

The guidelines are open to interpretation, so how can you ensure you conduct a thorough search? Although it's true that everyone in schools is entitled to a private life and a degree of privacy, it's important to make sure that your potential new staffs haven't been involved in incidents that could embarrass your school or trust or bring them into harm. Checking a candidate's social media and online presence should be undertaken alongside checking the teachers' register, teacher barred list, references, and DBS checks.

Ahead of conducting any social media checks, it's important to have the necessary internal policies in place to help you assess your findings and inform your hiring decisions.

Some things to consider are:

  • An employee code of conduct policy
  • A social media policy
  • Incorporating social media issues into other relevant workplace policies (eg. discrimination and bullying policies)

As well as policy, it's important to ensure you:

  • Have clearly outlined and adopted organisational values
  • Have internal approval to conduct social media screening

Without the above in place, you won't have the tools needed to appropriately assess your findings. You also run the risk of the employees who are tasked with the checks "filling the gaps" and applying their own unconscious bias to what they find. Then draw up your own list of 'red flag' actions on social media that would contravene your policies and cause concern for your school or trust and agree these with your team in advance. Also be clear about how far back you will search and on what platforms. While it's true that you should be careful what you post online, people change and grow, especially up to the age of 25.

The second step would be to let the candidates know that you are planning to do a review of their social media and online activity and that you will discuss your findings with them. Ask them to supply you with details of their social media profiles so you can ensure you have the right person, check their photo id and check that the profile hasn't recently been set up for this purpose. To ensure your candidate provides their details, it's best to add a declaration that advises that any undisclosed accounts discovered during the check will be included in the report.

You should also reassure them that all of the information that you gather will be publicly available at the time of the search. When gathering the information together, it's important that the information you find doesn't cause you to unlawfully discriminate. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for to discriminate based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. We would recommend that the searches by done by an internet-savvy person who isn't involved in the recruitment process.

The second step is to conduct your search. We would recommend searching for the candidates on Google as a starting point - granted it will be easier to bring up search results around a specific person if they have an unusual name e.g. Marcia Applethwaite rather than John Jones. When conducting Google searches to find accounts, use the data you know about the candidate. Entering their name in quotation marks, followed by their location, will narrow down your results. For example, "Their Name" location. You can also search their name together with each platform, for example, "Their Name" Facebook, "Their Name" Twitter. You may even need to include their middle names in order to narrow down your searches. Look for news articles about the person and consider what actions have led them to be newsworthy!

There are dozens of different social media sites, some of which allow complete anonymity. The main sites to search are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and YouTube. When you are searching through social media, you should be looking for any posts or comments which could be considered controversial and to see how much of their online presence would be available to parents and children at the school. It's important to give context to your findings, by including a relevancy and impact rating for each red flag.

When your designated researcher has found all the required information, they should it feed it back to the staff on the interview panel.Again, think about context, age of activity, impact rating and frequency.

What you find about each candidate will inform what you do next. If you have found questionable posts or comments, you should plan how you will bring these up with the candidate in a non-confrontational way and ask them to explain their meaning. Their answers will inform your next move as to whether or not you should consider them for the role.

It is also prudent to advise all candidates that prospective parents and pupils will be able to see exactly what you have found and setting their social media to the highest level of privacy may avoid any compromise or issues in the future. Obviously utilise your current social media policy and other relevant policies to ensure there is a clear understanding of acceptable behaviour whilst using social media both in and out of work time.

Starting background checks can be daunting but with the correct policies in place and a systematic and measured approach it can be a positive step for your school or trust.

Keystone can help you all aspects of HR, from recruitment and onboarding to staff wellbeing and disciplinaries. We recognise that no two schools or trusts are the same, so contact us to discuss the level of support that you require. Click here to contact us

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