Michelle, an HR director, was ready to make an offer to a candidate when she decided to run a Google search on the applicant. The result: "It saved me big-time. She had a ‘brandishing weapons' conviction, and it was all there on Google."
Such stories are becoming more common. HR professionals and managers increasingly use search engines and social networking sites (like MySpace) to dig beyond the typical résumé and cover letter. Many of the "red flags" uncovered include Web postings by the candidates themselves—postings that the person obviously didn't expect job recruiters ever to see.
The problem: Googling candidates can carry certain legal risks.
What if you only Google minorities? What if you inadvertently view information about a different person with the same name? What if your search shows a picture of the person in a wheelchair? All scenarios could raise discrimination charges if you reject the candidate. Two tips to avoid such legal risks:
1. Make sure you've got the right person. Even relatively rare names are duplicated, and many tall tales exist in cyberspace. "The way to deal with that is to bring (the Google result) to the person's attention," says Joe Beachboard, an employment lawyer with Ogletree Deakins in California. "I would always give the person the opportunity to confirm or deny it."
2. Be consistent with your searches. As with other recruiting tools, you shouldn't discriminate when Googling based on the person's race, age, gender or name (national origin bias). Realize that Googling may pull up photos, which means you may have to explain whether you considered the individual's race/age/disability in your decision.
"You should be consistent about how you go about Googling candidates," says Beachboard. "Maybe you do it for all candidates or just certain high-level candidates, but be consistent."