New research shows recent job applicants in UK and Ireland are worried about social media background checks

New research from Zellis, the HR and payroll specialists, shows that one in five recent job applicants (19%) are hiding their social media profiles or posts in an attempt to pass background checks. The research, carried out amongst recent job applicants in the UK and Ireland, shows that worries about online activity leading to missed employment opportunities are common across age groups.

It has been reported that 70% of organisations carry out background checks on applicants’ social media,  but many applicants do not understand what these checks are actually for. Online background checks are an increasingly common tool to catch risk factors such as discriminatory language or undisclosed criminal behaviour. It can also be used to highlight positive indicators such as charity work or volunteering.

Social media checks cause significant anxiety among candidates; however, Zellis’ research shows that 45% believe that organisations should not carry out these checks, many fearing that the company may be looking for too much information. Of those surveyed, 9% believed social media background checks could be used to uncover confidential medical history, whilst 12% believed it could reveal protected characteristics such as age or sexuality.

“It’s a common misconception that social media searches are used to somehow illegitimately access or hack personal accounts, when in reality they are only used to retrieve publicly available information about a job applicant,” said Ian Howard, Co-Founder of Internet background checking specialists Neotas. “Social media background checks are now a vital tool for hirers, helping to review a candidate’s attitude, as well as aptitude, for the role they’re applying for. As a company, Neotas prides itself on helping organisations to understand potential employees better by empowering them to carry out AI driven background checks which help to identify red flags whilst maintaining the personal privacy of job applicants.”

The research also found that over a quarter (27%) had lied in a job interview about past experience or qualifications, with 22% admitting; not having the right experience for the job; was their biggest concern when interviewing for roles.

“The job market has never been as competitive as it is today, but that doesn’t mean hirers can get complacent” said David Crewe, Customer Operations Director at Zellis. “Background checks should be commonplace for any organisation, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be mindful about how they feel for candidates.”

“It is crucial to offer candidates reassurance about the process, particularly the steps being taken to eliminate unconscious bias, or information about protected characteristics which should never be used in the hiring process. Background checking is not about catching applicants out or looking into their personal life, but rather about building confidence for the best candidates and ensuring a safe, accepting and positive workplace.”

The research was carried out in May 2022 amongst individuals from the UK and Ireland who have changed jobs in the last five years.


About Zellis 

Zellis is the largest provider of payroll and HR software, and Managed Services, to UK and Ireland-based companies with over 1,000 employees. With over 50 years’ experience and over 2,500 employees, we count a third of the FTSE 100 as customers and pay over five million employees a year. We are also the people behind ResourceLink, now part of Zellis HCM Cloud, which won the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professional’s (CIPP) Payroll Software of the Year Award for 2020 and 2021.