using info from Facebook when hiring

A reader writes:

What do other hiring managers do when prospective employees post on Facebook about their interview? Yesterday, I conducted phone interviews for an entry-level library technician position. One of the people I was set to interview came to the library in person (45 minutes early), somehow missing that it was a phone interview, not an in-person interview. I told him I would have to keep it a phone interview, even though he was in the library, to level the playing field. Then, the interview before his went long and we called him 10 minutes late.

He posted all of this on Facebook a few hours later. The library world is not that big and my co-worker down the hall came to me and told me about it because she is friends with him on Facebook. (They are not friends in “real life.”) She happens to know him because they worked together at a different library 12 years ago. She said she would not recommend hiring him because he has anger management issues.

His interview was okay – not excellent. But, how do I reconcile all of this outside information (making me or the library look unprofessional, his anger management issues)? I wouldn’t have known these things if it weren’t for Facebook.

Also, what happens when an interviewee sends you a friend request? This is for a different interviewee, but I’m inclined to ignore it.

Well, first of all, you don’t want to hire this guy, even aside from the Facebook info. He showed up in-person for a phone interview; what kind of attention to detail and general comprehension do you think he’s going to have on the job? Plus, his interview was “okay, not excellent,” and you don’t want to hire people who are, at best, mediocre. So you shouldn’t hire this guy anyway.

But for the sake of discussion, it’s completely fine to take into account other things you learned as well. Posting on Facebook is not like talking to a priest; there’s no expectation of or guarantee of confidentiality.  Things we do have consequences, online or not; in this case, the consequences were that this guy’s commentary on his interview got back to his interviewer. That’s not off-limits to you.

Think of it this way: Imagine that it’s 1953 and you heard that after his interview, he went to his local bingo hall (I don’t know what people did for fun in 1953, just go with it) and was complaining loudly about the interview. Your brother happened to be the bingo caller, overheard him, and told you about it. Would you feel obligated to ignore the information, just because it wasn’t part of your official contact with the candidate?

Your obligation is to make the best possible hiring decision that you can for your organization. That means looking at the full picture that you have about a candidate and not covering your ears when information comes to you outside of the normal hiring processes.

But even if you disagree with me about Facebook and want a firewall there for some reason, the information from the coworker who used to work with him and said he had anger management issues — of course you can and should consider that information! This is a normal part of hiring — if someone applies who worked with someone you know, you ask your contact about them. It would be irresponsible not to.

You do want to use some judgment here, of course — if your coworker is a terrible judge of character or you have other reason to think her unreliable, obviously you factor that in. But if you’re just not sure if you’re allowed to consider her input — absolutely you are!  That’s part of how hiring works. (Just like job-seekers are allowed to consider what they hear from others about your company; they don’t just have to rely on the company brochure you hand them.)

I wonder if you might be misapplying ideas about fairness here, because you also mentioned that you wouldn’t interview this candidate face-to-face because of “fairness.” I think there were plenty of legitimate reasons not to interview him face-to-face, but fairness isn’t one of them. Again, your obligation is to make the best possible hire for your organization, not to treat every candidate identically. (Otherwise you get the terrible hiring practices of the federal government, where they insist on asking every candidate the same list of questions and never deviating from it.)

And last, about Facebook friend requests from job candidates — you’re entitled to have whatever boundaries you want to have there. (I ignore them because I use Facebook for my personal life, not business.) More on this here and here.

Whew. Anyone want to argue any of this differently?

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. KellyK*

    I agree. I think that any info you come by ethically and honestly, you can and should totally use. And this definitely fits those criteria. If his friends list includes people you work with, and he posts rants about you for them to see, that's totally legitimate information.

    If he'd cut in front of you and flipped you off on the way to the interview, you'd use that, right? This is the same sort of thing.

    I also agree with AAM that a Facebook request to an interviewer is presumptuous, and I personally would ignore it.

    LinkedIn or a professional networking site seems much more reasonable. In that case, I'd only add the person if I thought they'd be a valuable part of my professional network. If I wasn't impressed, I wouldn't bother.

  2. Interviewer*

    There are plenty of experts who say you shouldn't even consider checking social media during the recruiting process because there is exposure to personal information that may tell you about their race, religion, national origin, etc. – and there's no good way as an employer to prove you didn't take it into account when making a hiring decision. But this information you learned about this candidate has nothing to do with protected classes. Making a hiring decision based on a display of unprofessional behavior or a poor work reference (no matter where you got your information) is well within your bounds.

  3. MK Taylor*

    Between the FB request and showing up in person, I'd be pretty hesitant to take this person seriously as a candidate. There's a fine line between showing how eager they are about the position and being pushy.

    Also I'm glad somebody raised the issue of requests to add somebody on a social media site. I just had a recruiter send me a contact request on LinkedIn after we'd just spoke on the phone. Not met in person, not helped me get a job, not helped me out professionally or done anything in general to impress me. I look at LinkedIn as being like providing a job reference – I'm not going to add somebody I can't personally vouch for. But I've also heard that in some industries, it's more like Friendster where the goal is to simply get as many contacts as possible.

  4. Anonymous*

    I have a question: Did the recruiter really see what this candidate wrote on the Facebook, or did she just learn it from her coworker? I mean where do we draw a line between trustworthy info and hearsay?
    I had a coworker who became personal friend – she's great in every aspect, except that she concludes assumptions about other people which is often incorrect (A is arrogant, B is a brown-noser, etc.). So I normally take it with a grain of salt when she tells me something about other people.

  5. Mike*

    The only thing that struck me as irritating was trusting someone's experience with the candidate after 12 years.

    I think if everyone looks back on their life, they are much different people in their teens than in their twenties or thirties or forties and so on.

    However, there is so much other odd or unsettling things going on that it the info isn't really needed.

  6. Charles*

    I second AAM's advice – yes, use such "outside" information in your hiring decision.

    HOWEVER, make sure that you are correct. Is that facebook account(or linkedIn, etc) really his? Are you 100% certain that he has total control over it?

    There have been some commenters (not on this post, but others) who say that the first thing they do is google a job candidate (I'm not saying that you or anyone here suggested or did such) and see what they can find on that person.

    This is where you need to be careful that you are getting accurate information.

    There have been reports in the news lately where some folks have created "bogus" accounts for other people making that other person look really bad. Are you certain that is not happening here?

    I have a "professional" website that lists my current resume, some samples from my portfolio, etc. When I give a hiring manager or recruiter the link I expect them to look at it and judge accordingly. I put the site together and it is accurate (whether it is "good" or not is another topic).

    This is not always the case with what you find online. So, to AAM's advice I would add "be skeptical of online information."

  7. Anonymous*

    It blows my mind how anyone has not yet figured out that FACEBOOK IS NOT PRIVATE. Yeahyeahyeah privacy settings whatever — people still treat it like no one can see anything they don't want others to see, when it's not the case.

  8. fposte*

    It sounds like the OP is trying to fit job interviewing into the pattern of a science experiment, where conditions must be strictly controlled for the outcomes to be valid, or a jury trial, where you're sequestered so that you only hear what's admissible in the courtroom. And those patterns just don't apply to hiring. Legally, there's only a handful of things you really can't consider, and ethically, I'd say your obligation is to treat people fairly and consider the information you receive thoughtfully. You still can do that while mixing phone and in-person interviews, and while having more information about some candidates than others. Your heart's in the right place, OP, but I think you're making things harder for yourself than you need to. And don't make the mistake of bending over so far backwards for somebody to make sure you're not unfair that you actually fail to hire a better person.

  9. Meryl L.*

    Honestly, some of the comments from HR people on this blog sound like they're working for the Gestapo.

    What about approaching all candidates with an open mind.

    I have the impression HR spends more time finding reasons not to hire someone than using good ole commonsense.

    But it sounds like HR plays mind games with people they've never met, let alone spoken to and already you've formed an opinion.

    Ever make wrongs calls in your personal and professional lives?

    So big deal the guy was eager. What's so bad about that?

    Relax people. Its not a crime.

  10. Ask a Manager*

    Meryl, it's not at all about being eager. It's about getting a crucial detail wrong (that the interview was a phone call, not in-person). And later it was about showing poor judgment with the Facebook posting. If he's making a stink about an interview starting 10 minutes late, what does that say about the ease of working with him?

    I don't see any mind games here.

    When you have tons of highly qualified candidates, you have to go on the information you have.

  11. Anne*

    I'm a little baffled why someone would conduct phone interviews for a library technician job. Aren't all the candidates local (as a librarian, we would only consider local candidates for our technician-level jobs, as they are clerks).

    Someone having anger management issues does not bode well for succeeding in a customer service role, as I assume your library technician will be fulfilling as they almost always are.

    I would consider what the interviewee said on Facebook but context is really important here. Obviously mentioning that you have an interview that day should not exclude you from being offered a job, but anything inappropriate would.

    The library world is a small one and any one who wishes to work in it should realize that library employees are going to talk about you if you're applying for a job at their library.

    It's really irrelevant though because you probably won't hire someone who interviewed just OK as you probably got a ton of applications for this job going off my experience.

  12. ImpassionedPlatypi*

    Personally, I don't feel that Facebook should be taken into account during hiring, or at any time during employment. Most people use sites like Facebook for personal stuff, not professional stuff. That means, as Interviewer mentioned, that information that is illegal to consider when hiring could be gained from looking at their Facebook page, but it also means that an employer could learn about a candidate's personal politics, their views on parenting, their stance on big social issues, or any number of other pieces of personal information which could sway their opinion regardless of how professional the candidate is when they are actually AT WORK. Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who party like crazy or who vent about an interview and post about it on Facebook, but who are also perfectly professional when they are actually at work, or dealing with people they work with or want to work with. What someone does with their free time outside work should not have a bearing on whether or not they are hired, or whether or not they keep their job. The only exception to this is if they are specifically representing their employer poorly. Meaning that bitching about "work" is fine, but bitching about "specific employer" is not.

    That said, in this case I don't think the Facebook rant should be considered but the coworker's opinion should be (keeping in mind that it's been 12 years and people change). The fact that the guy showed up in person for a phone interview should also be considered. Those together, along with the mediocre interview, should probably be enough to disqualify him.

  13. Anonymous*

    I'm not trying to favor any sides here, but the interviewee in this case was known by the OP's co-worker 12 years ago – do you still think this guy has anger management issues or at least have tried to overcome that by now?

  14. Anonymous*

    Totally agree with Alison. The issue here is that the guy posted negative comments about a potential employer on Facebook, when he had obviously messed up (and still been given a chance). Absolutely, this should be considered agaisnt him when considering him for a job – same applies if he posted it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or to another interviewee. As for using social media to vet potential employees, it depends on how you use it and with what intentions. Yes, it is wrong for a recruiter to say 'Hmm, I like this guy, but I'll hire him as long as he is white -let me see if there is a picture of him on FB' – very bad use of Facebook. But this shows where social media is useful for us hiring managers – evidently, this guy does not hold himself accountable for his own actions – not quite a quality I'm looking for in any employee.

    In this situation, absolutely – no way would I hire the guy, because he turned up in person for a phone interview, was p'd off at someone else for his mistake, got a bad reference from a previous co-worker, and in the end, only interviewed as average. I'm not going to go out of my way to see if this guy no longer has anger management issues, as I'm not obliged to – sounds like you have other candidates who will probably work out better anyway.

  15. TheLabRat*

    Was the Facebook post a rant? Or was it more of a "oh god I did a dumb thing with my interview?"

    Put another way, definitely need to account for the "is the current employee giving you the full picture" angle. 12 years is a long time. Maybe he did have anger issues… maybe he and the co-worker just didn't get along.

    THere's a lot of variables here and I don't envy you making the decision.

  16. Cass*

    I was going to ask if the Facebook post was a rant or just a commentary on what happened at his interview? Because it's not clear in the OP's letter what exactly was posted. Though the OP seems to think the post makes her or the library look unprofessional, so I'm guessing it wasn't just a "oh, I was such a ditz today" type of comment.

    However, after thinking about it – I'm not sure it really matters. If he does have anger management issues, then that may be a reason to disqualify him but how much does your coworker really know the applicant? They worked together, but how closely? And does she know about the anger management issues firsthand or through the grapevine?

    As for the Facebook stuff, I'm not sure it matters. Lack of judgement on the applicant's part of posting something that your coworker could see (he could have blocked the particular post from her), but it's not the end of the world (depending on what he posted).

    All in all, you should go with what you do know – that he thought it was an in-person interview instead of phone one, and that the interview didn't go well.

  17. Anonymous*

    Unfortunately, questions like this always seem to involve the lack of restraint and common sense. Not to generation anyone, but ime some groups seem to view the net as a friend, rather than the stranger smart people told you not to talk to. What's worse, is that now those strangers can view and use what you wrote in 2008 on a bad day.

    Listen up people… using social media can be the equivalent of putting a target on your back. What you post, what you publish (like an author) is out there for everyone to see and, like a bad review, can follow you for a long time.

    I'm not sure when publishing every emotion and the whatever pops into my head, play by play became commonplace but my best guess is a fool started it and everyone else jumped in for fun. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt and with published s&m that hurt can have more than 1 form and life.

    A little discretion, a little common sense and a desire for self preservation go a long way when speaking. Why isn't the same true on s&m sites?

  18. fposte*

    Meryl L.–I'm not a hiring director, but I do my own hiring, which sounds like the same position as the OP. And of course I'm looking for reasons not to hire people. I'm only going to hire one of the twenty/200/whatever people who applied. The rest of them I'm not going to hire. I need reasons for the differentiation. Some of those are positives, and some of those are negatives–reasons not to hire.

    That doesn't mean I make those reasons up, but it does mean that that when I have a candidate who made a significant mistake competing against nineteen/199 who didn't make that mistake, that yes, I may consider that as a reason to go on to the other candidates.

    And even if it turns out that that was the one mistake this person has ever made in their whole life and they would have been wonderful and I missed hiring them, that's okay. There's never just one person in a candidate pool who would be successful in the job, and as long as I choose somebody who's good at it and fits in it, that's a successful outcome.

  19. Molly*

    As the OP, I would like to thank everyone for their input. I feel that the whole situation points to not hiring this person. The candidate missed the fact that it was a phone interview, gave a mediocre interview and posted about it on FB. My co-worker's experience with working with him aside, I do not think he is a good fit for the position. My co-worker did acknowledge that 12 years is a long time and he may have matured and overcome his anger issues by now.
    @ Anne – we had over a hundred applicants for the position. Phone interviews helped us whittle it down to the top five.

  20. Anonymous*

    I have to chuckle at the way this thread reflects the polarity of US opinion about Facebook right now.

    There are two basic camps:

    1. People who know Facebook has a horrible track record with user privacy, don't trust it at all, and assume everything they post there should be considered available to the general public.

    2. People who have their heads buried in the sand.

    This being the case, and assuming the reader's co-worker was reporting facts accurately, I must agree with AaM.

    Interviewee seems to be in camp #2, and therefore lacks the necessary level of consciousness needed to work in a library.

    FYI, there is at least one good site for the FB experience without the FB bullshit:

    Yap has zero applications, zero business partners, and zero ads. And the ToS specify the site can never deliberately share your data outside their company.

    It's the only social networking site I know that works like that, and the only one I personally use and trust.

  21. Anonymous*

    I don't see how the applicant has demonstrated any poorer character than the co-worker has.

    The co-worker is 'friends' with someone she has had no contact with for TWELVE YEARS!! What kind of person does that?

    That we shouldn't expect privacy does not mean we also don't have a reasonable expectation to trust our friends. That the guy made a mistake in writing on FB does not negate the mistake the co-worker made in blabbing about it.

    The co-worker's disparaging judgement of the applicant's character is essentially baseless, since she has no idea if her evaluation is accurate or not. OP knows more about this applicant than the co-worker does, at this point, since OP has actually talked to the guy once in the past 12 years.

    I don't disagree that a hiring manager should use all the valid information that they have come by honestly during their decision-making process. But I think OP should consider the source of this information in this particular situation, and question its validity.

  22. Heather*

    To the last anonymous:

    Having a collection of FB "friends" that you haven't been in contact w. is pretty standard for social media these days. It's not really a reflection on the user.

    And as far as the guy posting on fb – I'm not okay with the distinction of personal vs. professional here. If you met a colleague of a prospective employer while you were out at a bar, would you be okay with yelling loudly about how awful the employer is? You wouldn't – mainly bc there would be no expectation of 'this is personal privacy – it's not official'.

  23. Dave*

    You look at my profile and judge my character for a job, Bullshit. What happen to the very FREEDOM I and many others have served for. MY Opinions are part of freedom of speech, they are part of the personality GOD has given me and everyone else. Stereotyping,judging me is your given opinion remember who gave you that freedom before you judge me for the JOB>!!!!!
    Just because you act like an idiot in your free time, DOES NOT mean you act like that at work. Hopefully we can discourage such ‘stereotyping’ and negative assumptions one makes about YOUR character and work ethic.

  24. Dave*

    Its sad people are skipping the cover and reading the book from back to front now. They dig into your life before they even talk to you in person. Whats the point of making a resume. You may as well just put your facebook page on a piece of paper and hand it to them. They do not care if you did X number of years with military or with some big well known company all they care about is if ur facebook page is respectful and what they want to see.
    That is one thing I am finding about civilian life, a lot of people don’t distinguish between on and off duty hours. I’m not saying that on our own time we should rape pillage and burn, but we were known to act the fool in our off duty time while still being able to kick ass on missions during duty time. It is a different world out here… Sad.

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