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Googling Candidates: The Trenches Say You Can't Afford NOT To....

Last week, I did a post over at Fistful as a reaction to a Workforce Recruiting article that featured employment law experts detailing the legal risks of the following items:

-Using social networks to recruit (at the expense of other, more traditional channels), and

-Googling candidates to uncover negative information and concerns...

You gotta have balance, and my stated concern with the information being laid down was as follows: There's still a sizable percentage of HR pros out there who are risk adverse to their own detriment and slow on the uptake to use new tools, especially those involving technology.  So, they read cautionary tales like the one outlined by the legal eagles quoted in the Workforce article, and it reinforces the laziness at times.  The rationalization goes something like this: "Hey, I've read several places that I can get sued for using those tools. So I'm not going to try to experiment with the tools".

The feedback came in to the post, both in comments and via email.  Some agreed, some said I was discounting the legal exposure, some were in between.

Then, I had a face to face conversation with a SVP of HR for a major hospital in the Midwest (10K in employees, 80 folks in the HR shop).  Here's' what he told me:

"We were getting ready to hire a Director of OD.  Thought we had the right candidate, ready to make an offer.  Because it was a high level placement, we took a look across the social media platforms and ended up finding information that showed the candidate did not fit our value system, especially what we require of our leaders.  I'm not talking about drinking pictures, I'm talking about a part of her life that she was clearly hiding in the interview process.":

"I don't know what to tell you.  If I make that hire and the info comes out later, which it absolutely would, my credibility as a HR leader is on the line.  I probably survive, but the trust is probably gone and it would take me years to recover with the C-level.  With that in mind, am I going to keep Googling candidates?  You bet I am.  I have to, I'm accountable.  I don't have the choice not to seek the full profile of the candidate by any means necessary."

There are two camps of opinion on this.  My take is that most people who are strong recruiters feel the pressure to know they're not only getting the best candidate possible, but also that they know they're getting the best cultural fit possible for their organization.

Can you afford not to look?  The trenches tell me "no".



Here's the problem I see:

I read that guy's statement, and I know I've worked places where there are people who would make that exact same statement about a candidate. And they'd be referring to his sexual orientation, or his donations to a pro-choice cause, or the fact that he's an atheist, or any number of other things that are protected classes (and in many midwestern states, including mine, sexual orientation is a protected class.

So maybe what they found is something that truly relates to the job...like pictures of him stealing from his last employer, or tweets about how he falsified the resume. But when I hear things like "didn't fit into our value system," that's a bit of a red flag for me.

I don't have a clue what hospital this was, or what your SVP meant by his statement. But it sounds ominous to me, and it just reinforces my belief that people are using these sites to weed out candidates based on characteristics that we've already decided are irrelevant (so much so that we've passed laws to protect them). I think the legal risk is probably minimal when they do this...but it's still wrong.


In Canada, the recent case law states that companies can utilize the internet as a way to understand more about the candidates they are screening, so long as it is reasonable. The term reasonable is broad...but ideally you are not basing your hiring decision on a grad weekend photo from 10 years ago.


The hair at the back of my neck stands up when I read this: "Because it was a high level placement, we took a look across the social media platforms and ended up finding information that showed the candidate did not fit our value system, especially what we require of our leaders. "

It would SO depend on what exactly one found - "values" can be a completely subjective set of ideas.

I am, in principle, against trolling social media sites in re candidate backgrounds. Unless there are strict guidelines in place for the person doing the trolling, (and wow, do I hate the word "trolling" - but it fits) I think we are looking at another way to discriminate, in a world where there's still so much of this happening that we are having great national debates about the subject.

If we FIND our candidates on SM sites, the information is there for the taking, and the candidate knows the hiring manager or HR dept is seeing postings, tweets etc. but when we go hunting for it... well, we seem to be hunting for trouble.

And this idea of companies demanding access to facebook accounts as part of the hiring process... demanding? really? (I've seen the language in some of the releases - wow.)

The future will be that we get sanitized versions of candidates lives if we continue to demand "perfect employees" - and we will continue to be disappointed.

I'd like to live in a world where, as long as I'm not breaking the law, I can be who I am, and not who someone wants me to be. Because, well, you may not agree with me or my "values", but I'm a pretty cool person, a very talented HR and Safety professional, and an astute businessperson.

HR Consultant

Wow! I am so surprised at these comments! Don't employers check references, especially the ones NOT listed by the applicant? I couldn't imagine a significant hire without 'asking around' in the industry about the candidate. How is this different? If you look at turnover, it's rarely about technical skills and mostly about cultural fit. This is a great opportunity to see who a candidate really is. Keep in mind you only see information in these forums that the candidate chooses to make public... Since we don't know what he meant by "values," we shouldn't always assume the worst.


"I'm talking about a part of her life that she was clearly hiding in the interview process."

What could that possibly be? There's huge swaths of my life that I don't share with my employer, because it won't affect my performance. Unless she's hiding a criminal past, which usually comes out in a background check, that guy had no reason to go there, and make a call that could be seen the way all of us are seeing it right now.

Can you shed some light, Kris? Surely you asked for more details ...


HR Consultant, I do check references. But I don't ask those references what the candidate's religion is, or what her sexual orientation is, or whether she went to one of those Tea Party demonstration.

If I pull up her Facebook profile, though, I'm likely to find out all of those things. If you google someone's name, you find out about every political contribution they've made, organizations they've joined, petitions they've signed, people they've dated...all sorts of stuff that has nothing to do with work.

References don't give you that sort of dirt, and there's a good reason for that. It's not relevant.

Kris Dunn

Hi Gang -

It's an interesting conversation, and you all bring up really, really good points.

So where am I? Feel like I'm stuck in the middle. First up, I know I can't afford not to know everything I can about a final candidate. With that in mind, I would hope that through hours of conversations, I know enough about what makes a candidate tick that it would take something very, very surprising for me to pull away from the candidate.

Another interesting point is the HR pro in question. When I think about using social media in this regard, I'm going to have faith in the HR pro to screen what truly is a conflict and what isn't for the position in question. Orientation, political affiliation and other hot buttons would not make me turn away from a good candidate.

The interesting question is on the values piece. We've got a obligation to match candidates with the values of our organizations (legally) and make the best match possible. If you feel compelled to veto the candidate that was golden along the lines of what Kerry mentions, then it's possible you're working for the wrong organization.

Still, the prospect of making the right match based on all the information fascinates me. Rock and a hard place for the HR pros out there. To say you shouldn't look isn't realistic for most of us. To veto candidates for shaky reasons robs you of a lot of talent.

Tough spot. It's a hard knock life in HR. Classic stand up spot for the profession.


H R Manager

I was recruiting a management level position and thought I had done all the necessary background checks, reference checks, etc. and didn't need to do a google or SM search . . . and then my CEO did a search on the candidate we were getting ready to make an offer on and found a link between them and child pornography. My credibility took a HUGE hit and I learned a valuable lesson: make damn sure you check a candidate by every means necessary because some things are not always as they appear.

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