Thursday, November 12, 2009

Googling job applicants

According a prediction by Dan Schawbel at the Personal Branding Blog (courtesy of, by 2012 100% of companies will be conducting informal on-line background checks of job candidates. This prediction dovetails the following comment from one of the presenters during the ABA’s Labor & Employment Conference, discussing this very issue, “Would you date someone without Googling them first?” His point is a valid one. A hiring decision deserves at least the same minimum level of scrutiny and diligence as a first date.

Informal background checks are subject to a lot of debate in the background screening industry. There is a justified fear that a lot of the information on the internet is unreliable and unverifiable. I have another problem with HR departments willy-nilly performing internet searches on job applicants – the risk that such a search will disclose protected information such as age, sex, race, or medical information.

Consider the following example. Jane Doe submits a job application to ABC Corp. ABC’s HR department, before even deciding whether to interview Ms. Doe, types her name into Google. What happens if a breast cancer survivor group pops up? If ABC declines to interview Ms. Doe, do you think it would be opening itself up to a claim that it failed to hire her because it regarded her as disabled?

Despite these risks, internet searches have some real value for employers. They just have be done carefully and with certain built-in protections:
  1. Consult with your employment attorney to develop policies, procedures, and guidelines for the gathering and use of internet-based information without running afoul of EEO and other laws.
  2. Print a clear disclaimer on the job application that you may conduct an internet search, including sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, and general searches using search engines such as Google and Bing.
  3. Only conduct the search after a candidate has been made a conditional job offer.
  4. Consider using a third-party to do the searching, with instructions that any sensitive, protected, or EEO information not be disclosed back to you.
  5. Do not limit yourself to internet searches as the only form of background screening.
The internet holds a wealth of information about potential employees. Be careful in how your hirers and recruiters handle this tool to avoid stepping in a big EEO trap.