Digging Through Candidates’ Digital Dirt

The results of a recent Careerbuilder.com survey of 1,150 hiring managers in the United States show that 12% of hiring managers have used social networking sites to dig into the backgrounds of potential employees.

Another 26% of hiring managers say they have used Google or other search engines as background research.

Of the hiring managers who Googled candidates’ backgrounds, 51% did not hire the person based on what they found.

Of the hiring managers who gleaned details from social networking sites, 63% decided against hiring the person based on what they found.

Researcher or Voyeur?

Is it fair to judge a candidate based on what is posted on a website or networking profile? Should inappropriate comments or indecent pictures be the deciding vote in whether someone is a good candidate for a job?

“There is a thin line between monitoring and voyeurism. And it is a line that is all-too-often crossed by employers. Employers have the right to look at certain aspects in making a decision, but employers should not be looking into candidates’ private lives. That is well-outside the context of the employee-employer relationship,” says Jeremy Gruber, legal director of the National Workrights Institute, an organization in Princeton, New Jersey.

Gruber poses the analogy of an employer who, upon learning that a potential employee will attend a certain party on Saturday night, shows up in disguise to watch the employee.

“If that happened, people would be outraged. Yet that is what employers are doing every day that they engage in this behavior. They are making decisions based on information not submitted by the employee or references. It is wholly unrelated to the employment relationship,” says Gruber.

“The idea that when you hire someone, you should be able to look at every aspect of their personal life is completely at odds of how a democratic society should operate. It has huge consequences for freedom in this country, when people are afraid or are changing their behavior because of what a potential future employer might say or do,” he adds.?

Though Gruber contends that online research into candidates’ backgrounds is legal, he urges recruiters to spend the time on more traditional evaluations to determine whether they can perform the job well.?

“The more time you spend on information that is extraneous to the ability of an individual is time spent away evaluating whether that candidate would make a good employee. Look at specific credentials, references, and things of that nature, versus what they did to blow off steam last weekend. There is always a leap of faith involved in hiring a candidate, and you should be wary of looking at extremely untenable aspects of their personal lives,” Gruber adds. ?

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Posting a Positive Image

For those recruiters who can’t resist the urge to search, the survey notes that not all online research will unearth negative news on your candidates.

In fact, the survey found that hiring managers discovered plenty of positive things that prompted them to select their candidates. According to the survey results, some of these helpful online attributes included the following:

  • 64% — candidate’s background information supported their professional qualifications for the job
  • 40% — candidate was well-rounded, showed a wide range of interests
  • 34% — candidate had great communication skills
  • 31% — candidate’s site conveyed a professional image
  • 31% — got a good feel for the candidate’s personality, could see a good fit within the company culture
  • 23% — other people posted great references about the candidate
  • 23% — candidate was creative
  • 19% — candidate received awards and accolades

Indeed, Krista Bradford, principal of The Good Search/Bradford Executive Research, LLC, views Internet searches as just another medium through which to communicate.

“A tool is a tool, and it can be used for good things and bad things,” she notes. And while she agrees with the notion that invading candidates’ privacy is a bad move — such as trying to gain access to privately held information, such as health or credit information — she contends that public information is fair game.

“As a recruiter, we may not ask a person certain questions, but if they choose to reveal things that would indicate they are making poor choices, then I would think that is perfectly legitimate. When someone writes about his private life in a public forum, he has made it public and it has ceased to be private.”

She says she has never used viewing a personal website or blog to exclude a candidate, adding that she has seen “thousands” of blogs. Instead, she says recruiters should embrace diversity and realize that workers aren’t cookie-cutter, two-dimensional people.

“I use that personal information to see what common humanity we share and how that helps me as a recruiter build that bridge. I don’t use it as a covert way to find bad things; instead, I use it as a way to find genuine human connections,” she adds.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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