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 is a former human resources leader turned writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. She is also author of Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.

CNN has recognized Laurie as one of the top five career advisors in the United States, and her work has been featured on NPR, The New YorkerUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and Vox. Laurie frequently delivers keynote speeches at business and management events around the world and hosts the popular podcast Punk Rock HR. She lives with her husband and cats in Raleigh, N.C.