But before you dive down the Google rabbit hole, remember that you’re looking for patterns of behavior — not isolated incidents. A picture that’s obviously from college several years ago of your candidate shotgunning a beer is nothing to stress about if everything you’re interested enough in this person to run a search to begin with.
Here are a few resources you can leverage to run a thorough, accurate search and get “the big picture,” which is especially important for HR purposes. If you have a stable of qualified candidates to choose from and a limited amount of time to interview them all, screening online is a great way to thin the herd -- before you even reach out to the applicant.
Run a basic search put the person’s name in quotation marks in the search bar of an engine. For example, type it in like this: “John Smith.”
If the person’s name is indeed John Smith or an equivalent generic name try to narrow the field by adding descriptors outside of the quotation marks. You could include the city in which they reside, their industry, occupation, or affiliated professional groups and associations that you know they participate in through either their application or profile.
Don’t stop at the first page, especially with generic names. Most HR organizations search through the second and sometimes third pages of Google results so they don’t miss potential public records or news articles involving incidents where they candidate may have been arrested, gotten a DUI, etc.
Don’t forget images! As with the Google results, don’t stop at the first page. Search through pages two and three as well to find recent pictures that indicate excessive partying, mugshots, or pictures that are in poor in taste and not reflective of your values or the values of your company. Be sure to click through the links to “view page” and confirm that the picture is indeed of the person you are screening.
Check Social Media Profiles Before Contact
Locate the individual’s social media profiles before making contact with the person.
Especially in the case of a job interview, an email or a phone call from your company requesting more information or requesting an opportunity to interview might remind them that it’s time to “clean up their act” and scrub their social media accounts.
By searching the profiles before you go any further, you might have an opportunity to see how the candidate behaves when they think they’re not being watched. An unfiltered version. Also, if some of what you see concerns you, you can save time by not bothering to make contact in the first place and move on to a different candidate.
Identify Patterns of Behavior
Again, search for patterns of behavior, not isolated incidents. We can’t stress this enough. One crazy party picture from college does not make the individual a bad person. When searching, try to remember how you behaved in when you were young and wild and free. Now imagine every person had a mobile phone with a camera and an online network of 800+ plus people to share the images with. You’re probably blushing just thinking about it.
Of course, Halloween costumes that are in poor taste, clearly recent photos that show frequent and excessive partying that are public, and mugshots, especially recent or multiple mug shots, should all be red flags and causes for concern.
A DUI from 1998? Depending on your company’s policy, you might still want to bring this person in for an interview. Odds are they are not the same person they used to be or have been on the straight and narrow for over a decade now.
Just remember to use your best judgement, but don’t judge too harshly.
Identify a “Personal Brand”
If you’re going to punish individuals for negative behavior, you should also reward for positive.
Just as you screen for bad behavior, you can also screen for good behavior. Are they spreading positive messages? Have you noticed that the person’s name is consistently affiliated with various volunteer groups and nonprofits? Do they share industry related news on their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts? Are they positively engaging with other people in public discourse on Twitter?
While job search sites, like LinkedIn and New York Jobs, is a recruiter’s dream, Twitter is a goldmine of data. Almost always a public account, you can see personal interests through who they follow and what they share as well as get a telling glimpse into how they interact with others.
If they behave respectfully in the detached world of social media (which usually typically brings out the worst in people), then they are going to be likely to behave appropriately in person too.
Be Consistent and Professional
Public online searches are not regulated like a formal background check, but the information you uncover can often be personal and even painful. Whether in a professional or personal scenario, digging into social media, financial information, and family life could open you up for a potential discrimination suit in the case of Human Resources.
Just like a professional background check, know what you’re looking for ahead of time, look for it, and be done. Why are you conducting this search? To see if they’re responsible? To check for past arrests? There’s a fine line between informed and wildly inappropriate when it comes to online screening. Yes, the information is public but you have a moral responsibility to be a decent human being.
Sabrina Clark is a marketing professional specializing in startups in the technology and Internet space. Sabrina is the Director of Marketing & Corporate Communications at BrandYourself, helping people take control of Google search results for their own name and establish a positive online reputation.