The Unofficial Guide To Online Reference Checking
Published: Feb 05, 2014 By Roger Lear
I know. Many human resource departments are so busy that they don't have time to do any snooping around on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vine or Facebook looking for special nuggets of information about a possible future employee. Yeah...right! In today's world of where so many people put themselves in the cloud, someone in your company (especially hiring managers), are doing "reference checks" online.
You know who you are! While I don't have major statistics supporting my theory, I spent a lot of time asking HR professionals at last month's SHRM conference in Chicago if they do this forbidden practice. I was not only surprised by the popularity of this "underground" movement, but I was shocked to find out that many participants in my informal survey used their findings to support their hiring decision. I was hoping to get a juicy story of how a candidate who has a great background and fantastic interview turned out to be a real life Dexter on his Facebook page. It just doesn't happen all that often.
Companies are going out of their way to make sure they publicize they don't do online reference checks. Many have social media policies that strictly forbid this practice. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) scares the bejesus out of employers because it doesn't allow them to discriminate against a possible future employees who social media accounts rip past and current employees. Not to mention all the other discriminating perceptions that an employer can find doing social media reference checks that are protected like religion, health status and who they may vote for in the next election.
So what is an employer to do knowing this type of reference checking is going on in the backroom no matter what the risks are for the company? Vala Afshar who only hires people through social mediums stated, "The Web is your résumé. Social networks are your mass references." As an employer, you might as well embrace the fact that at some point, someone in your company is doing a Google or social media reference check. No matter what the policy is banning this practice, hiring managers will use their phones or home computers to hide the search evidence. Companies are hiring background check companies who do pre-defined social media checks. These reports include illegal activity, explicit material or extremely erratic behaviors that are found on sites or deep web crawls. They don't include all the protected stuff.
On paper and a policy, this looks great but I still contend that someone in your company is doing a social media or Google reference check anyway!
Employers realize how huge social media access has become even in their own lives. (Facebook made finding anyone really easy with their new social graph search tool.) In other words, no matter what is put in place, someone in the company will most likely use the power of their keyboard to do their own "research" on a potential hire. With that in mind (I am sure this isn't you) these are my four considerations on how to do a great online reference check.
Research the right person. With so many users of social media today, there can be over one hundred matches for a particular person you are looking for.
If you have not physically met the person or seen a photo, this task becomes very hard. If you are not 100% sure you have the right person (identified by matching information from a resume), do your reference checks the old fashion way without fail.
Everyone or no one. If you are doing online reference checks without your company approval, use the same process for everyone. A lot of recruiters/HR start with LinkedIn and then go to Facebook. LinkedIn in blah. You already have that information on the resume. For those who like social media reference checking, Facebook is where the heavy duty lifting starts. No matter what sites you visit, use the same process for everyone you are considering for a position.
Understand what you are checking. You already know about all the bad things that can come out of a social media reference check. They make great stories. But most employers who do reference checks are just looking for normal people...period. Kris Dunn says it best, "your CEO wants you to Google candidates. He doesn't like freaks". Consider that employers who do social media reference checks are typically users themselves and can interpret the information they uncover. Your reference checks on sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter should be focused on looking for only the crazy stuff. In my experience, it is rare that you find anything completely out of line. (We did enjoy watching the news video of one of our candidates getting handcuffed for stealing computers in another state.)
References available upon request. Whether you do your social reference checks before or after the physical interview (I recommend after), you now have instant access to references. The old way of requesting a separate page of references from a candidate is EXACTLY the same of doing your own social media search. Anyone who has ever checked references finds that even though these are "hand-picked" by the candidate, many don't give glowing responses. The funny thing is you still hire the person because you connected with the candidate during the interview. You simply impeach the reference as a fluke because you're hiring this person as long as you don't hear the word "murder". Social media allows you to verify that you have a normal or completely abnormal candidate much quicker and effectively, if done correctly.