Don’t Facebook Me: Why You Shouldn’t Google During the Recruiting Process

From the HR blog on TLNT.
If you saw this photo of Laurie Ruettemann on Facebook, would you think she's drunk or just tired? From the HR blog on TLNT.

By Laurie Ruettimann

Last week, I participated on a panel hosted by the HR Technology Conference and Exposition in Chicago. I joined fellow bloggers Kris Dunn, Trish McFarlane, Mike Krupa, and Bryon Abramowitz to discuss a variety of topics from the role of blogging within the HR community to whether or not it is appropriate to conduct a social media background search on candidates.

It didn’t take long for the panelists to disagree on key issues. For example, I don’t believe it is appropriate for Human Resources professionals to hop on Google, root around the Internet, and look for incriminating pictures and create reasons not to hire qualified people during America’s worst recession in decades.

Googling is a sloppy, lazy, and unseemly method to verify a candidate’s character. And who the heck is HR to put itself out there as a judge of character? I told the audience, “Some of us in the room are human and screw up on a daily basis. If you can’t use Facebook to post pictures, where is the joy in life?”

Is everything on the Internet fair game?

Unfortunately, I was in the minority in the room.

Most HR and staffing professionals argue that a social media search is absolutely crucial to the hiring process. Some argue that all content posted on the Internet is fair game — which means that recruiters are viewing everything including your pictures, blog posts, tweets, and more. Post something on a breast cancer forum about how the disease runs in your family? Make a political donation? Comment on a blog that explains your positions on a social issue?

It’s all out there to see and interpret, which is okay for the average recruiter and HR practitioner. They want to know what you’re doing so they can judge you before they actually talk to you.

I don’t think your behavior on the Internet is fair game. Governments routinely recognize the right to privacy and regulate employer behaviors. In America, there are laws that govern the way we can conduct standard background checks and how the information can be used to influence hiring decisions. Germany is moving to ban prospective employers from spying on applicants’ private postings on social networks. Many companies are instituting a no-Googling-policy because a social media search is neither a reliable nor valid way to judge character, integrity, or competency.

And let’s not forget that information and images on the Internet might not be real. In an era of Photoshop and hacked e-mail accounts, it is best to view search results with a skeptical eye.

Anyway, it was a heated discussion. After this thrilling panel, I skipped lunch and ran across McCormick Place and taught a course called Twitterversity. While it is not my life’s work to help HR people learn about Twitter, someone has to do it. I gladly led 157 people through a session where we created accounts, tweeted, retweeted, and learned about hashtags.

When social media collides with a long day

I know. Riveting stuff.

It was a long day.

Unfortunately, my day wasn’t over. I was asked to attend a party hosted by Aquire Software. Lois Melbourne, the CEO, is a big fan of the HR/social media community. She rented out a suite at the Hyatt McCormick to host a live broadcast of HR Happy Hour. If you haven’t listened to the show, HR Happy Hour is an interactive podcast where the HR community discusses current issues in the Human Capital industry. Steve Boese, the host, is known for booking amazing guests, and I was excited to attend the party. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the show live.

I arrived at the hotel and found an open spot in the suite where I could rest my weary bones. The spot was on a bed. I sat down next to two colleagues and I ate a plate of chips and salsa (my first meal of the day) and nursed a glass of wine. The suite was warm and cozy, and I was surrounded by nearly 30 of the best and the brightest luminaries in the HR and Social Media industry. I was honored to be there.

Although the party was fun, the discussion turned to talent management solutions. Marc Effron was speaking to everyone about his amazing book called One Page Talent Management

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…and I nodded off. Right there. On the bed. In front of my colleagues.

Can you blame me? Talent management in a balmy hotel room after a long day of work? No offense to my fellow party attendees, but I was tired.

Stop Googling during the recruitment process

At one of those points while my head was bobbing, a picture was taken and posted on Twitter and Facebook. Although I was sober and surrounded by my colleagues and friends, I appear to be completely drunk on a hotel bed with a glass of wine in my hand. In a weird twist of fate, there is now an unauthorized picture of me without any context where I look like a drunk, middle-aged woman at a hotel party.

Thanks, Internet. Really appreciate it.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but recruiters and HR generalists aren’t wordsmiths. You are a Human Capital professional who is supposed to be a good judge of talent. Look for yourself. What do you see when you look at this picture? A tired Human Resources blogger who is bored by a discussion about Talent Management? Or a drunk woman at a conference?

Please stop Googling people during the recruiting process. You can do better as a Human Resources professional and find ways to validate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of your candidates without conducting an unreliable and invalid search of activity on the Internet. What you see on the Internet is not what you get. I am a living, breathing example that a picture posted without my consent can be difficult to explain.

Now that you know my story, you should thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

If this can happen to me, it can happen to your candidates.

You’ve been warned.


Laurie Ruettimann (LFR) is a former Human Resources leader turned influential speaker, writer and strategist. She owns a human resources consultancy that offers a wide array of HR services to human resources leaders and executives. Check out her LinkedIn profile here. You may know Ruettimann as the creator of The Cynical Girl and Punk Rock HR (retired), which Forbes named as a top 100 website for women. You may have also read her book, I AM HR: 5 Strategic Ways to Break Stereotypes and Reclaim HR. (RepCap Press, 2014.) 


72 Comments on “Don’t Facebook Me: Why You Shouldn’t Google During the Recruiting Process

  1. this posting solidifies why you are a thought leader Laurie! The last time I checked HR was not full of people who work a full day, go directly home, eat dinner, then go to bed. This is evidenced by the behaviors demonstrated by the “talent professionals” that have attended events in far away cities and let their hair down (New Orleans, Chicago, San Diego). Those that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones! Keep up the great work!

  2. I still disagree on this issue. I think online presence can be crucial in evaluating a candidate, depending on the position.

    If I am looking for a leader, especially one that will represent my company in the public eye, you can be sure I want to know what their online face looks like. It’s a data point, not the entire decision process, but it is still important.

    Can people be human, taken out of context, or shopped out of control? Of course. And if there are recruiters out there who see one picture like yours and reach a conclusion without examining your entire body of work, then they aren’t good recruiters to begin with. I’d compare it to someone saying “Yes, this candidate is qualified, and they interviewed well, but by golly I won’t hire anyone who shows up in a green suit. It’s not professional.” THAT’S lazy recruiting.

    I want to know as much as I can about a person in the process. But I also have the responsibility to filter out the “personal” piece as much as I can. It’s not too different when I call a reference of a candidate. There is an onus on me to be a professional on that call. Online presence is another reference point, and should be treated with as much care and consideration.

  3. Great post–I was just talking with a group about making assumptions and how we often don’t have the whole picture or all the information. This is an excellent example of how sometimes what we see (and have a negative impression about) is not what it appears to be.

    1. I taught diversity training for years and the underpinning of the training came back to empathy, critical thinking skills, and the courageousness and bravery to ask questions when you don’t understand.

      I’d like to see that in the recruiting process.

  4. HR Pros should be filmed at hotels during conferences so that employees can see if they even want to work for that company. My suspicion is that most employees would be offended by the infidelity and sloppy drunks that make up the HR community. And I think employee prospects should Google their interviewer as well.. Maybe they could take that information back to corporate and show them just how lousy, political, sexual and stupid their HR director is.

    1. Are you interacting with the same HR Pros I am? Where are these people of which you speak? Do you have anything more solid or credible than just a “suspicion” that HR pros are largely infidelity driven sloppy drunks? Unfortunately, your comment reflects the worst of the Internet culture — wild accusations and innuendo unsupported by any kind of evidence or fact.

    2. Uhm, yeah, you would find a bunch of HR dorks sitting around a hotel room talking about talent management. Or at least that’s what I found at the Hyatt. #boring

  5. you were awake when i came in at the end of the show… come to think of it… it was kinda warm in that room… hot air? ha.

    in all seriousness, where would be the line and who would draw said line makes for compelling conversations… like the definition of pornography, not sure we would get two people to agree on said definition… and, we (as a community) prolly need to have a serious discussion about social media and EEOC at some point… not the law of the land but how people get around EEOC… and (my three cents), maybe that isn’t all that bad… #justsayin

  6. Nice post, Laurie. I’m going to disagree, though, at least a little bit. I think the problem with Google-ing potential employees is that the hiring pros don’t have a clear idea of why they are – or should be – using internet vetting.

    For example, if I run a health care facility and I am hiring a nurse, it might behoove me to see if they have said anything on Twitter like “I wish I had become a dog trainer because I hate nursing,” and they’ve said it repeatedly. I think that would be a legitimate deal breaker.

    But if the candidate has posted picture of him or herself drunk at a barbecue, or posing nude in their own bedroom, who the eff cares? Maybe that’s a good way to blow off the stresses of work because they are a good nurse.

    It’s not using the internet to vett your candidate – it’s using amorphous terms like “bad judgment” that’s really the problem. Bare breasts do not stop your candidate from doing a good job. Neither does falling asleep at a party at a conference.

    1. Thanks, Joan.

      Hm. How do you know what you find is real? What if the candidate denies it?

      And what if the nurse says something racist on a forum — or something racist AND political but protected under the first amendment — but is a good nurse and has no history of behaving in a racist way?

      Slippery slope.

  7. This is why I won’t do social media. It has nothing to do with what I am capable of as an HR professional. And I agree with Laurie about raising the question as to whether HR should be involved in Googling the internet for social media content during the recruitment / hiring phase, regardless of the job market. It brings too may irrelevant items and issues into determining “can this candidate perform the job to the level that we expect”. My thought (including 25 years as an HR professional) is “absolutely NOT!”. Any HR professional that thinks that social media, which was meant as a mean of connecting “SOCIALLY”, is a predictor of a good employee is doing a disservice to every candidate that he/she meets. HR should stick to what’s relevant (work history, skill set, education, etc.). All of the other stuff just adds noise to the equation.

    1. Thanks, Stuart.

      Social media predicts nothing except how many crops you’ll have in Farmville. And it’s not really good for that, either.

  8. I’m always trying to figure out how social recruiting is okay but checking on candidates on social networks isn’t. If the internet isn’t real when we’re checking on candidates, it probably isn’t real when people are telling us what they’re good at online.

    If I’m a good little job candidate in the 21st century, I’ve got my online profiles so that I’ll attract interest from companies who are looking to social recruiting to help source candidates. And even if I’m not intending to be found, good social recruiting practices are supposed to dig up that information. You’re going to be exposed to some stuff that isn’t normally on a resume either.

    HR people aren’t robots and we should expect them to evaluate candidates like one. If I meet a guy at a business mixer who is falling down drunk and he later applies for a job, I’m going to find a way not to hire him. Is that inappropriate judgment or would it be even more appropriate for you to disregard it? I can see both sides but I also know what I would do.

    I think we have three choices:

    1. Bury our heads in the sand completely and forget the internet exists. Good luck.
    2. Use the internet aggressively even though there are consequences to using it wrong.
    3. Use some judgment (because we aren’t robots) and take your social recruiting and screening efforts with a grain or two of salt.

    1. Well I believe in social sourcing…

      Maybe we’re getting to the heart of the problem that recruiters and the recruiting process are doin’ it wrong. Some argue that administering tests is just as effective as behavior-based interviewing. So remind me again why we need to use DDI methodologies when a test is just as effective (and more efficient) than a corporate recruiter?

  9. Great post Laurie. Although your hotel experience gives me the willies (I try to be very, very aware of what is out there about me.) Every time I think I know where I stand on this issue I hear another story that makes me think. I agree with Dwane that what appears in social media should be considered carefully. But I do think it is valuable to see what’s out there if for no other reason than to confirm whether the candidate possesses an ounce of common sense. Personal is personal, but I do think it is your own choice (most of the time) to throw personal info all over the web and if you choose to do that and not at least pay attention to privacy settings, you almost deserve whatever people think of you. If YOU put it out there, it is not private now, it is public.

    And if you don’t know enough about those settings you have no business being on there in the first place.

    This tells me a couple things about you as a potential hire – you are irresponsible with your own reputation so you probably will be with the company’s as well and you lack common sense.
    That being said, based on your hotel story, if pictures show up that were not put there by the candidate my rule of thumb is that it’s not real. Anything can be doctored, airbrushed or taken out of context so if I see something that is not there by the candidate and the candidate has not provided an explanation, it is in one ear and out the other. Completely irrelevant.

    Again, great post and we have not heard the last of this topic!

    1. Jen, the whole point was that I was TOTALLY responsible and surrounded by some of the least threatening, most amazing people in the world—and this still happened. It’s nothing, really, but some unskilled HR professional with fewer critical thinking skills than a monkey is going to judge me on this picture.

      Thanks but no thanks. We can do better.

      1. I got your point Laurie. My point was that anything put up by someone else should be ignored or automatically considered not credible. You have to assume that you don’t know the context, motive of the person posting, or their photoshop abilities. Now if you posted that yourself, that’s a different story. When it comes to social media it is usually fairly easy to tell who put it there and that is what makes the difference in everything. I KNOW it still happens to responsible people, but the responsiblilty when viewing/reading it is on the person doing the viewing/reading and if it wasn’t posted by the subject you should just assume it’s garbage rather than assume it has any merit.

        1. Got it. Sorry. I still think we have the right to get sloshed from time-to-time and post drunken pictures on FB of themselves without acting like it’s the end of the world. Sure, CEOs have the good sense not to post those pics… but most regular chumps just want a job, they’re qualified, and they are of (reasonably) good morals and values. Let’s cut everyone some slack.

          1. And if you do want to post pictures of yourself sloshed on Facebook, that’s perfectly fine, but you should be posting them with privacy settings that prevent HR people from seeing them. And, as many upthread have pointed out, if you don’t have the good sense to monitor your privacy settings for the stuff you personally are putting out in the world, you have to deal with the fact that people will judge you for it.

            It just seems like you’re making the argument that people should be able to post whatever they want on the internet and not have it effect their professional reputation. If someone else is posting it, sure, I’ll take it with a grain of salt. But if you are personally posting something on the Internet, and making it “public” on Facebook, that’s something you’re putting out there as part of your public persona, and that’s as legitimate to judge a person by as their cover letter or resume.

  10. I’m with you Laurie. Googling candidates is silly. You can’t account for false information, intentionally or unintentionally misrepresentation by others. But more importantly you are exposing to much potentiality protected information to recruiters/hiring managers. I don’t Google candidates and I don’t Google employees. There is a difference between as @thelance said “Bury our heads in the sand” and keeping appropriate boundaries. Google Stalking to me crosses that boundary.

  11. Interesting. Slippery slope indeed. You know how we have opt in marketing? What about opt-in googling? The downside being that (like drug tests, handing out SSNs like candy and breathalyzers) anyone who refuses looks guilty…

    I checked the image search by my name and discovered that on page six there are three models and an old guy with a cigar. I’m thinking those images balance each other out.

  12. If you have to rely on Google to be the final arbiter of your hiring decision, then I’d like you to please get the hell out of the HR business. If you’re a manager and you do this, then you don’t get to make decisions anymore either. Bye!

    Sadly, I spent good majority of my time last Saturday sharing with students that “Employers are going to conduct a Google search on you” and a few of the brighter minds asked me “Ummm, John isn’t that illegal?”

    I have a feeling that once this current crop of HR idiots gets deposed by slimy employment attorney and they’re facing termination because they screwed up and exposed their firm to a very large class action lawsuit, the practice might stop.

    I tend to think of myself as an educated individual, but when had to participate in a deposition, I got rattled. And I wasn’t even the recruiter who messed up.

    1. Isn’t this borderline glib, John?

      And I don’t mean to pick on you but I will because you’ll understand: Who is *really* allowing Google to give the final okay?

      The same person who wasn’t thoughtful about their screening process long before the internet existed?

      The same person who thinks asking “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” is a good way of determining if a person should be hired?

      The same person that eliminates a mechanic’s resume because of a misplaced apostrophe?

      Like all things in social media, it isn’t about the tool or the resources available, it is about the person behind the keyboard. If that person is an idiot with information obtained via Google, they are probably an idiot about a lot of things in a hiring process.

      Most of the people I’ve talked to in HR use the information in a reasonable manner because they are reasonable people. They follow certain guidelines, they establish boundaries, and use it as one of many tools to vet the candidate. The few that abuse the privilege also do other unwise things. Many of those unwise things are perfectly legal too.

      If we are willing to accept that Googling is happening and that it is highly unlikely to cease, I wonder if we would be willing to discuss what sorts of boundaries and practices should be in place if a company chose to go that route? Not necessarily in this post but just in general.

        1. I’m pretty sure the EEOC has already taken a stance on this. Being exposed to protected class information isn’t the problem. Using it to make a decision is. That’s why everyone is still doing interviews and using LinkedIn. Both of those expose protected class information.

          Blurring the line between using social media to make an illegal hiring decision and a judgment call that’s otherwise legal (even if some would argue ill advised) isn’t helping anyone. The EEOC doesn’t care about the latter but reasonable employers will care about both. I had assumed we were talking about judgment calls based on online behavior, not making illegal decisions based on information obtained from social media.

          1. Dude, yes.

            We’re talking about bad recruit(ers/ing). We’re not really talking about google. My post isn’t really about google images, but rather, the stupid way recruiters assume they KNOW something based on a picture.

            Look at this unflattering picture. I look like I’m on the prowl for 25 year old boys. Even my family sent messages and asked, “Why were you bombed at a conference?”

            You think recruiters are smarter than my family?

            Nope. They’re not.

          2. Dude, I think there are distinctions to be made.

            Between a single picture and a pattern of online behavior.

            Between deciding you don’t like someone because of their race or deciding you don’t like someone because of how they carry themselves in conversations online like this one.

            I believe there is room for nuance there. Or at least for someone to believe that one is definitely wrong and one is not-advised or that you should proceed with caution.

      1. Lance,

        I love you and you’re right, I do get it, but I’m going to disagree on a few of your points. While the scenario’s that you’ve listed are all too commonplace, I think that we can both agree that they are some really shitty managers out there who hide behind those questions.

        But what about the ones who’ve been doing a good job in the space? How can you truly “unlearn” or not make a false assumption? Let’s say I do a Google search on a candidates name, and I see that they live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Miami Beach. I also see from my search that they donate to several Jewish charities. I happen to be a practicing Muslim, and feel that with my limited scope of information from Google that this person may be donating to several organizations that are oppressing Arabs in the West Bank. I don’t pull the trigger. I’m an SPHR who’s worked at some pretty big co’s as a Sr HR Generalist, the company relies on me daily and I’m damn good at my job. Am I any different from the peeps you listed earlier?

        I had a colleague who once commented that when it comes to hiring, HR is not the final decision. But since we are HR, we will not allow our hiring managers to make the “wrong decision”. We need to educate our teams, get buy-in from the C-suite and probably get corporate counsel to scare the shit out of these peeps in a effort to combat this behavior.

        (for the record, I’m not a practicing Muslim, or Jewish, just making a point)

        1. John, I would say you’re not good at your job if you’re willing to make a decision based on religion that could impact not only the candidate but also you and the company. Even if you’re good at all other elements of your job, making that sort of decision that is so clearly illegal negates all of it. That seems clear to me at least.

          The fact remains that the impact of that decision doesn’t change because you got the information from the internet instead of your neighbor Bob. And look at gender and race based discrimination. Even in entirely offline recruitment processes, you were eventually exposed to that information when you did an interview.

          The EEOC has figured out how to deal with in-person interviews without banning the practice and they’ll figure out how to do the same with internet searches.

  13. Laurie — I promise I’ll never judge you as a job candidate for seeming to be passed out, in a hotel room, with a mixed group of individuals, with a drink in your hand, on a bed. But falling asleep when I’m talking about my book . . . I’m not sure you’re the right fit for our company at this time . . . . .

  14. Laurie,
    I have in the past been of the opinion that it is inevitable that recruiters and hiring managers will look at the internet footprint of job seekers. I don’t think it is more of a courseory glance, and unless there is anything significantly disturbing it gets ignored. i recently conducted some research in which i had conversations with active hiring managers on both sides of the Atlantic. The reaction I got was that they don’t really care what you have pictures of on the internet. You can find the post on the research here
    Interestingly, the time hiring managers became most interested was post interview. most admited they looked across social media for reactions to interview and that had some impact if the comments were negative. I guess that is human nature.
    I wrote a blog post today though because I was alarmed to read a post about a company “social inteligence”, that have automated the snooping in ALL channels and apply an interpretation about potential hires, with comments like: Drug issues, Drink Issues, confrontational, prone to violence etc. This report is also being used to monitor and report on the behaviour of existing employees! This is a grave concern to me. I have met you,. I know what a profesional you are and if I needed an HR consultant, I have no doubt you would do a fantastic job for me. What, however, would a report on you say? Disagreeable, argumentative, prone to profanity, (and after your photo: possible drink issues.) this would of course be nonsense, but a mechanical based algorithm can not have the ability to interpret context.
    I have a friend who conducts all of his meetings and networking in bars. He is single so often eats out or goes out to wine bars and the like. He uses four-square and checks in religously. What would his report say, after all, he is always in the pub! The reality is that he is teetotal and never touches anything stronger than orange juice.
    This alarms me, and the implications over how we operate on-line could change dramatically as a result.
    The full post is here:
    Please let me know what you think and take the time to comment.

  15. Right or wrong, perception rules the world. People are going to judge you based on a multitude of things, one of them being your online presence. Writing an article villifying the HR people that do take into consideration one’s online presence and resorting to name calling does not make your actions correct. If you want to blog and tweet about the minutiae of your day and post pictures of yourself doing silly things on the internet, then you must be prepared to face the consequences of your actions. Take some personal responsibility and quit trying to justify your own actions by guilting others into not fully researching their candidates.

      1. Yes, I read it. I wasn’t talking about this one isolated incident where you just happened to be doing something innocently. I was talking about your broader comments defending all posts on social media, specifically when u mention that is ok to post pictures of yourself in drunken debauchery-that you have to live your life. You can certainly have that philosophy, but there are consequences for your actions.

        1. But the points are 1) She didn’t post that picture 2) She has no control over how other people *perceive* the image and 3) In a competitive job hunt, she might lose out because the HR person jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

          In an economy where you can get a Lexus candidate for a Honda price, using unverifiable sources and irrelevant data only clouds your search for candidates. Not to mention making it longer, more cumbersome, and prone to error.

          1. She also said she should be able to post pictures of herself on facebook “getting sloshed”. Those are the pictures I am talking about, not the one in the picture above.

  16. He posted: “I majored in beer drinking in college.” I’m supposed to take this candidate seriously? Not!

  17. I disagree, but appreciate your perspective. I think that to NOT research people online is a mistake. What if you could prevent your company from hiring someone that routinely bashes their employer online? Or that talks about partying all night and arriving late to work daily? I think an ounce of prevention is worth the time it takes to do the research.

    1. Some of the most disruptive and and poisonous employees that I have worked with did not have an online presence. What about your other candidates that don’t use social media but are just as likely to have “bad behaviour” – I have been a networking events and conferences where people are just as likely to say and do things that are seen and heard by many. Just because you can’t read about it online, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

      Googling does not equal due diligence.

  18. Laurie, I don’t know if you’re going to get too much agreement on this one. 1. HR pros and hiring managers alike should be able to use good common sense about pictures like the one you describe of yourself and other isolated pieces of info. Keep it real about how much truth you can derive about a person from one photo like that.
    2. Companies should hire people with brains and common sense commensurate with the position. I wouldn’t hire someone who doesn’t know how to set their privacy settings on Facebook, or manage their Twitter followers so as to filter out unwanted onlookers.

  19. It’s one thing to argue that what you find on the Internet isn’t always accurate or relevant and therefore, employers should Google with caution and read the results with appropriate skepticism. It’s quite another to conclude that if X isn’t 100% reliable and 100% relevant 100% of the time, employers should therefore be barred from ever considering X at all. By that reasoning, such as it is, it wouldn’t be enough to take Googling out of the recruiting process; we’d have to scrap the process entirely since the rest of the information that comes out isn’t 100% reliable, either.

    The bottom line is that your company either has an HR staff with their heads screwed on straight, or it doesn’t. If it does, you should be able to trust them as professionals to be appropriately skeptical of all information they find, whether on the Internet or anywhere else. If you don’t, then you’re simply screwed. Idiot-proofing is not a realistic option.

  20. I think the question we really need to ask is, does the ability to research candidates on the internet *really* help recruiters find better quality candidates than they would find without the the ‘help’ of the internet? Or does it just cause extra labor (and open them up to liability)?

  21. Moderation can be a good thing. Rather than taking social media resources out of the recruitment process, I think it would be better to only use it in a sensible way and keep in mind how unreliable and easily misinterpreted social media information might be. For example, if the search uncovered hundreds of references to times when the candidate has fabricated fake injuries at work and made a living at recovering the benefits — OK, ditch that applicant. A single photo or strange day should be ignored. Note: I am really biased about that advice to ignore a single bad day. It is all because of a certain karaoke video that I hope none of you find. I was totally sober, but you’d never know it from watching.

  22. Fascinating. Couple of things I’ll toss in. On the topic of assessments for hiring, they shouldn’t be used for more than a third of the decision, according to most of the organizations who actually sell the assessments and validate them statistically. Behavioral interviewing can be great, if done well and calibrated as DDI suggests, but having gone through a recent career search and a ton of interviews, I can attest to being asked only a handful of true behavioral questions, and rarely by more than one person in the organization (hence, no real calibrating). Some pretty sloppy HR and hiring going on out there. If I have my way, I will never hire again without a good assessment tool, and I will still not give it more than 33% of the weight of the decision. I will continue to use strong behavioral interviewing questions meshed with a solid process of interview design and calibration. And, as much as possible based on the position, I will use writing samples, auditions, or some sort of simulated job experience as much as I can. Then I’ll ask my self if I’d trust them with my car, house or kids, of if that’s extreme for the role, if I can trust them with my other valued employees. Why all of that rambling about hiring process on a post about Googling candidates or checking their social media footprint? Because I do it, as part of the *overall* process, and give it some small amount of weight, depending on what I find (patterns). I assuredly don’t discount for having friends, making jokes, or having a public record of life on social media, for those who choose to. But if they’re talking to their fellow felons about pipe bombs or Nazi rallies, posting recipes for stove-top crystal meth, or talking about their latest bar brawl, it might factor a tad more heavily into my decision. But generally, it’s just another data point. And certainly more often than not, it’s given me reason to like someone even more, or perhaps some common ground or insight that might allow me to better woo a candidate that I really want on my team. I’ll also say, as alluded above, that I am with Lance on the topic of online (or offline) patterns of behavior, versus one picture. Laurie, following that logic, I couldn’t care less about your wine/bed/drunk-looking picture or nodding at a conference. Frankly, who gives a crap? Is there someone among us who hasn’t been sick or exhausted or bored in a meeting and had a hard time concentrating? Because of your rep and HR “fame,” it’s a bigger deal in some ways, but considering your work, contributions, messages, legacy, blah, blah, blah, it’s an infinitesimal blip, in my opinion. And I’m certain Scrubby isn’t worried. My two centavos.

  23. I do it all the time, but I have yet to hold anything I found against anyone. If anything it showed that they had interest outside of the job and that was important.

    Stay hungry, stay foolish.

  24. How I ironic that you handled Twitter, FaceBook and Talent Management all in the same day. There should be a connection here but more times than not there isn’t.

    I agree with you. Googling FB, Twitter and other sites should be off limits. Upper management of major organizations worry every day where they are going to find talent to replace the baby-boomers. No you have HR professionals looking for perfection by Googling to see what they can find. I say its off limits and you will loose a lot of good potential candidates while you are looking for perfection.

  25. Laurie,

    I agree. My thoughts about Googling candidates – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

    Does the fact that your Google search come up negative mean that your candidate is squeeky clean and the one to hire? Perhaps, but it could also mean that they have been studiously reading HR blogs and have taken our advice to not post pictures of their escapades or share their opionions about controversial topics. This doesn’t mean they aren’t doing questionable things – it just means that are very better at hiding it.

    You will always be taking a risk when you hire someone, regardless of whatever tools you use. Googling someone and crossing them off the candidate list because of your interpretation of what you see is also very risky…you may be completey wrong.

  26. The computer is a tool, not a God….

    Too many rely on impressions without going beyond the surface — how many times we have met someone, judged them for something we do not like only to find out very soon how wrong we are? ALMOST ALWAYS….


    If you want your life to be an open book, have an innate desire to have your life an open book that can be ready by anyone at at time BUT expect all this to be ignored during a recruitment process, GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR BUTT….

    Discernment is a value and character MANY have refused to exercise and build — this goes to BOTH sides of the recruitment process, of facebook, on the internet… The internet is a data warehouse — period. There are moments we have no control and something ends up being what it isn’t (like falling asleep in a room of many influential people — it wasn’t the company, it was the person and the moment of time).

    There was a farmer that needed a loan and the bank officer was new to the area — so the farmer was a bit nervous about getting the loan. The officer reviewed the farmer’s paperwork, sat back and said, “Well, I could give you the loan but then again I couldn’t…. So I’ll tell you what, one of my eyes is a glass eye, a very expensive investment as it was made to look real. If you can tell me which one is the glass I you have the loan”. The farmer speaks up very quickly without having even taking a good look and said, “It’s your right one.” The bank office was astonished by the quickness with which the farmer answered, “You sure you don’t want to take a second look?” The farmer looked the banker square in the eye and said, “Don’t need to — it’s the right one because it has more grace than the other.”

    Which one are you — the banker? or the farmer?

  27. Great piece. I enjoy how the writer puts in her own incident with the wine. I don’t think it’s fair for hiring managers to look at a person’s Facebook profile and assume that they are not a good candidate if they have a picture of them drinking or having a good time. We’re only human and when we don’t work we have a life that includes going out, drinking, and having fun with friends. At least that’s what I do.

  28. This is a very excellent piece and I’ll add that I completely agree. Pictures on the web can be taken out of context. Comments, inside jokes, and other remarks can be completely wrong. One can try and regulate what gets put online, but there is only so much a person can do!

  29. Hi Laurie. You make a valid point about things being taken out of context. I would assume that if you search on a candidate, you are trying to create more context than the information you have at hand is giving you. Making a decision based on the information you have is a good thing and acceptable. However, as a person, if I did not get a chance to even be interviewed based on a picture of me (let’s use your example of “drunk woman at a conference”) I would most likely be better off (as in reality says it’s not an opportunity missed). It tells me the organisational culture (if I extrapolate on the recruiter’s behaviour) is rigid and judgemental. We all let our hair down in some form or other. A couple of party pictures, no matter how bad, do not make someone ineffective in their job or terrible with dealing with people. People are complicated and when you employ someone, you take on the whole and as such you must embrace that. Social Media in some cases has people escaping into their alter egos. In some cases it is simply being free to express what they often feel is not acceptable to say in a face to face engagement. It does not make someone not worthy of an interview and definitely is not correlated to the person’s performance in a work environment. I therefore support searching on candidates, but only if you have the wisdom to use the information to benefit you, not miss out on good people. I would not want to work for an organisation that thinks that all there is to my life is coming in and out of their offices and being a robot.

  30. I am going to come at this from the other direction – proactive marketing of ones professional brand.

    If someone takes the time to put their best foot forward, demonstrate their experiences and accomplishments and offers blogs organized by subject tags, heaven for bid the hiring manager or HR person may find a superstar who took the time to stand out. Imagine the notion of being able to look at someone’s documented experiences, deliverables or viewpoints before meeting a candidate? Let’s face it, we all look at ingredient labels before we buy packaged food. Why? No one likes surprises and we stay on the look out for good buys.

    Imagine a candidate that boasts “solid presentation skills” that you can actually see on YouTube? Great presentation skills…how about a link to Slideshare?

    Each and every one of us has a professional voice we use at work, when we bump into colleagues or when we are online. Why hide from one’s professionalism? Interviews are relatively short…why not use the web as a pre-sales and post-sales opportunity to differentiate oneself?

    My colleagues and I apply and teach this every day. Check me out and

  31. How can we prevent ourselves from appearing when organization googles us? I am really in need of it.I closed my account but still i few information about me appears while googling.Help me.

  32. Wow. That’s a fantastic way of making your point, truly. Before I read the context of that picture, I thought exactly what it wasn’t: middle aged woman drunk in hotel room or at a party somewhere.  I have been very guilty of using a google search and FB surfing to screen candidates (I have a PR/Marketing firm – I’m online a LOT) and based on the intel found, chose not to go with some folks over others. Truth.  In my defense, one candidate did send me a link to her really snarky blog, where she talked badly about her bosses.  I was just protecting myself on that one. 😉

    In all seriousness, this is the first argument I’ve heard that made the case for NOT using Google or FB or anything else online to screen applicants. I can’t say I’m not going to do it, but I will say I won’t count someone out immediately as a result of snooping around.  Thanks for the perspective!

  33. Great article and points Laurie.  I think the takeaway here is the very first thing I was ever taught in 1992 when I started my recruiting career: Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. I do NOT think most people give this…

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