The Internet offers hiring managers a plethora of rich and previously inaccessible information. But before you get to Googling, remember to stop and think about whether those actions could be crossing legal lines, even putting you and your company at risk of litigation. I sat down with Brian Finucane, a partner at Fisher and Phillips specializing in labor and employment litigation to get some insight on the issues employers should be aware of before researching candidates online.
“This is the classic situation where lawyers can think of a lot of reasons not to do it, and non-lawyers can think of a lot of reasons to do it,” Finucane says. So with all of this information at our fingertips, what exactly should be considered off limits to recruiters and hiring managers? Finucane pinpointed these five “don’t”s of Googling job candidates.
1 | DON’T USE INTERNET RESEARCH TOO EARLY IN THE PROCESS
Rather than Googling the candidate behind every resume that passes your desk, reserve the online research element for later on in the process. Think of it as a last step to use when you have a handful of finalists to choose from rather than as a tool for narrowing the larger candidate pool.
2 | DON’T AUTHORIZE YOUR MANAGERS TO USE IT AT THEIR DISCRETION
“If you’re going to use online candidate research, give that duty to a set person to minimize excessive use,” suggests Finucane. Typically, this job would be given to an HR person rather than a specific department manager — someone who has “the discipline and sophistication to realize what information is significant and what should be ignored or not considered.”
3 | DON’T PURCHASE INFO FROM NON-ACCREDITED THIRD PARTY PROVIDERS
“There is a federal statute that regulates people who are in the business of gathering and selling this information to employers,” Finucane notes. “But now the Internet is filled with people who are selling info about persons but are not the traditional types of reporting agencies.” Since these agencies don’t necessarily comply with federal statutes, it’s best to avoid them altogether. According to Finucane, “it’s safer to use the free information than to purchase third party providers who are not accredited. Plus, when you get info from an organization covered by that act you are required to give the candidate notice that you secured that information.”
4 | DON’T LOOK FOR INFO YOU CAN’T PUT ON AN APPLICATION
“Internet research opens up this idea of getting information that you’re not supposed to acquire through the application process,” Finucane pointed out. Things like age, race and national origin can be easily found through a quick Google search, and “employers could be accused of using that information in their hiring decision.”
5 | DON’T SUCCUMB TO THE URGE TO LOOK FOR INFO JUST BECAUSE IT’S OUT THERE
Overall, it’s important to remember that just because the information is out there, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use. “For an employer that is hiring, the information is out there, and the urge to look for it is going to be irresistible,” Finucane says. “Usually larger, more sophisticated employers are cautious about how to use internet research as part of their screening process for new employees. But if you’re going to do it, exercise discipline and control about what you’re going out and finding and what you do with that info.”
Esteban Gomez is a marketing consultant with interviewstream. He loves learning and has a passion for traveling, having visited many countries including China, Colombia, Italy, and Peru.