Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are you facebooking as part of background checks? writes on the wealth of information employers can learn from a job applicant's Facebook and other social networking webpages.
Job candidates who maintain personal sites on Facebook or MySpace are learning — sometimes the hard way — that the image they present to their friends on the Internet may not be best suited for landing the position they’re seeking.

Although many employers are too old to qualify as members of the Facebook Generation, they’re becoming increasingly savvy about using social networking sites in their hiring due diligence. That has both job candidates and human resources professionals debating the ethics and effectiveness of snooping on the Web for the kind of information that may not come up in a job interview.

According to a March survey by Ponemon Institute, a privacy think tank, 35 percent of hiring managers use Google to do online background checks on job candidates, and 23 percent look people up on social networking sites. About one-third of those Web searches lead to rejections, according to the survey.

Social networking sites have gained popularity among hiring managers because of their convenience and a growing anxiety about hiring the right people, researchers say.

Big corporations long have retained professional investigators to check job applicants’ academic degrees, criminal records and credit reports. But until now the cost has deterred the ability of smaller firms to do the same level of checking, said Sue Murphy, a director of National Human Resources Association.

These online searches can reveal a wealth of information not otherwise attainable through a more customary background and criminal records search: risqué pictures, pictures of drug use or heavy alcohol use, poor writing skills, and radical political positions. Any one of these could convince a potential employer that a particular job candidate is not not a good fit or not worth the risk of hiring.

A word of caution -- if you choose to make these searches part of your hiring process, you should do so uniformly to avoid the appearance of disparate treatment. That is not to say that every job candidate for every position needs to be screened, but if you are going to screen one candidate for a particular position, you should do the same for all candidates, and apply the same standards based on the results. While the online search itself is lawful, it is still illegal to use that information in a disparate manner to unlawfully discriminate.