is it wrong to Google job candidates?

A reader writes:

I recently was given the responsibility of finding interns for our company. In the process of reviewing applications, I Googled one of them. The first search result was her Facebook page so I clicked on it, and saw that many of her posts and pictures were set to “public.” I did not see anything out of the ordinary or really anything that would prevent her from getting a job, but decided to mention it to my boss and coworker anyway, just to see what they thought.

To my surprise, I was met by extreme resistance to what I had done. I was told that it is not okay to look someone up before an interview because what I find might “color my opinion of them” and that my own personal judgments might get in the way. I was under the impression that it is one’s personal responsibility to curate their web presence as they see fit and that whatever is found through a simple search is fair game. I was also under the impression that this is pretty standard these days. Am I wrong? Is looking up a potential intern or employee prior to an interview unethical?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. Cheryl*

    Hi Alison,
    Can you provide a link to the study you cited? (About the numbers of employers who Google potential employees…) Thanks!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know what I was looking at a few years ago when I wrote this (these are all reprints from the archives) but there are a bunch of things around the web citing similar figures:

      1. Cheryl*

        Thanks for the link. I was able to download a powerpoint of the findings of the survey and it’s actually really interesting and addresses many of the issues being discussed here. It’s interesting to see how different companies handle these issues.

  2. DMC*

    I disagree slightly with the advice. I do think doing an Internet search of candidates is normal, but the best practice would be to have that done by someone other than the person who is making the final hiring decision — someone not on the interview panel. The problem with doing a Google search is it is likely to lead to information that you should not take into consideration, like a candidate’s religious preferences, gender identity, disability, etc. Could it come up in a claim for discrimination later? Yes. Is it likely to? No. However, if you want to be safest, just have someone else do that kind of search (similar to how our company has folks not involved in the hiring practice conducting background checks and keeping the information secret from the hiring manager and just providing information about whether the candidate passed or didn’t pass the background check).

    1. Anon 12*

      This. I’ve seen a lot of hiring managers go down a rabbit hole over interpreting stuff they saw on social media. It’s one thing if you are hiring a social media moderator and their online presence is critical to their job or a leadership level person with a Twitter presence that was actively cultivated for their work persona. LinkedIn is also fair game but I think hiring managers should stay off more personal sites, particularly prior to interviews.

    2. Koko*

      The big difference there, though, is that a background check involves the release of very-much-not-public information. They have to sign a consent form and the check will reveal things that probably even some of their good friends don’t know about them. It makes sense to be more careful about who sees that sensitive information, not for possible claims of hiring discrimination purposes but just to respect the employee’s privacy.

      But someone’s social media/web presence? That’s not sensitive information, it’s public information that anyone could find about them.

      And as Alison points out, you can also learn things about a candidate’s age, race, gender, pregnancy status etc. when you interview them and see them in front of you. You just make sure you have good reasons why you hired the way you did. The same goes for anything you might find on the internet. Don’t factor them into your decision and make sure you have clear reasons for hiring the person you hire.

      1. Koko*

        By “them” I mean illegal factors. But if you learn from the internet some of the things Alison mentioned, like the person is a massive racist or the person is an active contributor to StackExchange, you can totally use that information in hiring. Those are defensible reasons to hire/not hire in the unlikely event of a discrimination claim.

    3. Anna*

      I was actually told by a speaker at a how-to-hire-without-getting-sued seminar that you should absolutely not look at someone’s online presence before interviewing for these very reasons….lawsuit happy people. That being said, I didn’t necessarily agree with the speaker on this point. I can agree there are people out there who would be more than happy to sue the pants off a prospective employer if they felt (and could convince an attorney) what they saw on social media influenced their hiring prospect negatively, but as a supervisor, I would like to know if the candidate is telling the truth about how well they play with others at work. And some people put all that out there for everyone to see. :) We also have a system for background checks and the hiring supervisor does not usually get detailed information about a candidate, only whether they cleared or not.

      1. Koko*

        Also…how would the candidate even know that you looked at their social media? At best the speaker’s advice should be “don’t tell the candidate you Googled them” because from the point of view of the candidate who is serving or not serving the lawsuit, they can’t tell whether you Googled them, so whether or not you Googled them won’t influence whether or not they serve a lawsuit.

    4. JustAnotherHRPro*

      I was just about to post the same thing. I think that it is normal and maybe even a good idea to do a google search on a candidate (if you have the bandwidth to do it). However, I would suggest doing it AFTER you have met with the candidate for an in-person interview. That way you don’t inadvertently discriminate based on a protected class or activity that would be divulged through an internet search.

      So frankly, I don’t think what the managers said was way off base at all. And if what Alison said is correct, and they are small business, they can’t risk a discrimination lawsuit and the massive amount of potential payout if the complainant prevails. With that being said, I don’t think it is fair to assume that someone who is in small business wouldn’t have experience hiring, there are just as many talented and knowledgeable managers with incredible business savvy in small business as there are horrible managers (with ZERO business savvy) with no ability to hire in large prestigious organizations.

      1. bryeny*

        I don’t think waiting to google a candidate until after the interview is going to help. If you google after the interview but before making the hiring decision, what you find online can still influence your thinking.

        Also, I didn’t read Alison’s comment as an assertion that small business owners as a class are inexperienced at or not knowledgeable about hiring. But on average, managers in larger organizations are likely to be better informed on the subject: first, because bigger companies hire more people, and that’s how you *get* hiring experience; and second, because a new manager at a big company is likely to get training or at least guidance from HR, and may be surrounded by more experienced hiring managers who can clue them in to how things are done. I think Alison was (very reasonably) reading the manager’s reaction to googling prospective interns as evidence of inexperience and lack of good training, and positing that managers with limited hiring experience and training in same are more common in small organizations than in large ones.

    5. INTP*

      I like this idea – anyone with racist, abusive, defamatory, or excessively risque content can be flagged, without other content influencing the decision makers’ opinions. While I think most of us wouldn’t be out to figure out someone’s precise ethnicity or religion for the sake of discrimination, we’re also in tense times and we probably all have some information that it would be difficult for us not to allow it to color our idea of a person’s character or critical thinking. I mean, I’d be lying if I said I could objectively consider a candidate’s merit after finding out s/he’s a Men’s Rights Activist or Pick Up Artist or abortion clinic protester or Westboro Baptist Church supporter or feels passionately that trans people should have to use the wrong bathroom. There’s just a lot of information I’d rather not know about candidates (and coworkers, for that matter).

      On the other hand, I think it’s fair game for anyone in the process to check LinkedIn because that’s an indication of what someone will bring into the professional environment, not just what they are engaged in on their own time. (I once had to toss out a candidate because he had a blog about ancient alien theory on his LinkedIn profile – I don’t care if you believe in aliens, but as a recruiter I have to care whether you have the judgment to not evangelize that belief at work.)

      1. Koko*

        Social media is so much more than just a pass/fail though. It’s not like you only see things that work against the candidate – you can also find things that enhance their candidacy.

        Being objective is difficult, but I think that’s all the more reason to practice recognizing your own bias and countering it when necessary, because everyone has bias. If you think you can avoid bias by avoiding information, you might feel less of a need to watch yourself for bias. And if you’re diligent about checking your own biases, then you can counter them.

        Not even with controversial things like WBC or MRA, but shoot–if none of us checked our bias we would all probably hire the most attractive candidate who smiled the most because deep down in our lizard-brain we just *like* them and we can’t quite put our finger on why! Instead, we ask ourselves, “Why do I like Candidate A? Why do I dislike Candidate B? Are these good reasons?” and realize that Marco Rubio is in fact the antithesis of everything you want in an employee, your judgment was just clouded by his boyish smile.

        1. DMC*

          The problem is not everyone who makes a hiring decision IS diligent about checking his or her bias. Also, even if the person is diligent, can the candidate who wasn’t hired (and they think it’s because you found out via your online search that they have an invisible disability) claim that you WERE biased and show evidence to support it? If you never knew about their invisible disability, you could not possibly have used it in your decision-making process. However, if you did, in fact, do an Internet search that uncovered it (and these things come up in litigation, especially with e-discovery) NOW you did have knowledge of it, they can prove you had knowledge, and that’s one less hurtle for them in their claim. Is this likely? No. Has it happened? Yes.

          1. Observer*

            How is the candidate supposed to know that you googled them? Even with e-discovery, it’s not going to come up unless you email someone or note somewhere on your system “Checked out candidate X – He’s black but blah, blah, blah.”

  3. ali*

    I would expect employers to Google me – and look at my Facebook (private) and Twitter (public). I would find it odd if they didn’t.

    I was freaked out once because my team was interviewing someone – our manager was remote so she had him come in and meet the people he’d be working with and see the office. He knew things about us that he would have only found out from pretty extensive Googling. It was really odd. I’m sure my manager had Googled him, but she gave us very little notice about him coming to visit – he obviously had way more time to look us up than we did him. It was just strange that he knew so much more about the 4 of us than any of us knew about him. And that he brought it up in conversation.

    1. Morning Glory*

      I did that in an interview once without thinking, brought up something from my interviewer’s twitter account.
      It was horrifying. Luckily he either took it as a sign I’d done my homework, or else didn’t care that much, because I got the job anyway.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It sounds like the issue was that he was using bad judgment in what he brought up. It would be just as weird if an interviewer started talking to you about what they saw online about your trip to Bermuda last year or your racing scores in college.

        1. ali*

          Exactly. I knew literally nothing about him and he knew my entire career history and everywhere I’d lived. My LinkedIn or resume wasn’t public at the time, he could have pieced it together with digging, but it would have taken a lot. I don’t need to know everything about him, but if I’m interviewing him it would have been nice to have at least as much information on him as he had on me.

          It made me very uncomfortable. I don’t care that he knew so much as it made everyone very uncomfortable when he brought it up – especially those of us who have been stalked by men in the past. He’d clearly done it with the others as well, as he knew what country another coworker was from (you wouldn’t know by looking at her or talking with her, you’d think she was a born American). The whole thing was just awkward. We did end up recommending him for the job regardless, because he seemed to have the technical skills we were looking for (turns out he didn’t, as I see now that I’m maintaining his code from when he worked with us).

    2. Anon Today*

      I always google interviewers before an interview, but I would never bring up personal things. I like to see who they are, where they are in the hierarchy, and what kinds of backgrounds they have. I thought that was part of being prepared?

      I did use it to my benefit once in an interview, when the hiring manager asked why I wanted to change fields, and I cited an article he’d written that had made an impact on me.

      1. ali*

        That is a great use of it, actually! Reading and citing an article in the field by the interviewer is a great idea. Asking them about their recent vacation to Costa Rica, not so much. One makes you look educated and like you did your research. The other makes you seem more like a creeper.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I don’t google people before interviews, but I will check to see if they’re on LinkedIn. In one instance, I saw that one interviewer was an alum of my small college, which actually came up during the interview and I was glad that I was ready for that in advance. I’m not sure I would have brought it up on my own as that person clearly knew the information from my resume, but since they didn’t have a company bio it felt like a nice little bit of balancing the info gap. Knowing the background of recent hires has really REALLY helped improve my confidence in being qualified for a position.

  4. Pwyll*

    I’m always torn about Facebook. Twitter, blogs, etc. – absolutely, they’re public ways of communicating. But I feel like Facebook is so firmly entrenched into the personal realm that I try hard not to look at it, which mostly just shows my age I suppose, as Facebook itself has been making moves to be seen as a content platform and not just a place to communicate with friends.

    That said, I think OP did this the right way: a quick glance at what the public posts are to see if anything outrageous is out there, and then moved on. That’s about all I tend to do when hiring.

    1. Koko*

      The main appeal for me of searching a candidate on Facebook is seeing if we have any mutual friends that I can reach out to for an informal reference. I’m connected to a larger and more diverse group of people I actually know and trust on Facebook than I am on LinkedIn, so I’m more likely to find mutual connections who would make good references there. Most of my LinkedIn connections are fellow marketers, but not everyone role I interview for is a marketing position. It’s handy when a friend of mine in graphic design is connected on Facebook to a candidate for an administrative assistant position because they went to college together or worked at the same place once in the past, because I’m likely not connected to the graphic designer on LinkedIn since our work doesn’t overlap professionally.

    2. nofelix*

      Facebook is an odd one because I feel most people see it as both public and personal. For those that are savvy with their privacy settings the boundary is clear, but for others one needs to be wary of making them feel their privacy was invaded. As mentioned in other comments, it pays to be selective about what info one brings up in interview.

  5. Menacia*

    I actually do this whenever I get a new coworker. I found out some interesting stuff about my coworker who has had a huge chip on his shoulder ever since he started here. There were public documents regarding his not being accepted for a (civil service) job based, in part, on previous coworker’s comments about his being a difficult person to work with…we could have dodged a bullet if my boss did a Google search before hiring him (I was not involved in the hiring process). :( He’s been here 2 years and is still a miserable SOB, except to those people he likes (who are all men, WTF?).

    1. heatherskib*

      We had a similar situation with a panel I was interviewing on… living in a college town, we regularly get overqualified applicants for positions. (Think PHD for staff assistant positions) In one case an attorney applied for a mid level position and all the bosses were excited. I stopped to google him and realized that he had several sexual harassment complaints. The office I was working in is 75% college aged females. That’s just asking for problems.

  6. AMT*

    I agree with the answer, but I would love to see what hiring would look like — especially in male-dominated fields — if hiring managers did interviews behind a screen with a voice distorter. Apparently, blind auditions have greatly helped to diversify orchestras.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes! I was right with AAM until that last paragraph, and then I thought, wait a minute…. those are good ideas, actually.

    2. Orchestral Musician*

      I’m an orchestral musician and this is very true! Many orchestras even have a soft carpet you’re supposed to walk on to get on the stage for your audition, to muffle footsteps that the audition panel could use to guess what gender you are. There are certainly drawbacks to the blind audition process — for instance, the lack of interview could lead to you hiring a terrible coworker that you don’t want to sit in close proximity to for essentially forever — but the tenure process, which occurs after a year or so in most orchestras, helps to mitigate that. And the screen in the audition room assumes you’ve already gotten past the resume round, where the panel can certainly google you, guess at your race or gender, etc.

      This kind of system would be much more difficult in fields outside music, though — especially if you are hiring for a customer-facing role or someone who regularly interacts with the public.

  7. Central Perk Regular*

    Several years ago when I ran the internship program at my former company, I always Googled candidates that we were seriously considering. A couple of times, I came across some unsettling stuff – a Twitter account that was laced with profanity and derogatory comments towards women, and some really trashy photos – and I admit, they did influence my opinion of the two candidates. Honestly, I didn’t really care what they did on their own time, but it made me really question their judgment/professionalism.

    As it turned out, the kid with the Twitter account turned into a total nightmare to manage and we almost fired him. The only reason we didn’t fire him was because his relative was a prominent politician in our city. (FWIW, I wanted to fire him but got over-ruled.) The other intern, in general, really lacked good judgment skills. I had a talk with her, and she really improved.

    1. Koko*

      Exactly…some might argue it’s not “fair” to discriminate against someone for their personal beliefs, but if those beliefs aren’t related to a protected status, it’s (as my parents always loved to say) “as fair as it’s going to get.”

      If you have a diverse workplace and discover that your candidate is a white nationalist, it’d be naive to think that wasn’t going to create a high probability of conflict in the workplace, and there’s nothing illegal about deciding you don’t want to hire that person.

      1. Sas*

        Actually, I think most of what you stated is discriminatory. Protected class means a LOT of different people, not only the ones that you want it to be! Learn about that, and why many different people can be discriminated against and how.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, white nationalism is not a protected class. Protected classes are race, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.

  8. Persephone Mulberry*

    This reminds me of the time we interviewed a candidate but weren’t 100% on board about her, and the hiring manager said, “I wish I could ask [Professional Colleague] at [candidate’s not-current employer] what she thinks of [Candidate].” I replied, “Well, why don’t you?” and the hiring manager gets this aghast look on her face. “You can’t contact people not on the reference list!” I tried to assure them that it was not, in fact, illegal to do so, but I don’t think they believed me.

    1. TootsNYC*

      It is a bit of an etiquette problem, though. Saying “you can’t” doesn’t always mean they think it’s illegal (though maybe that’s what she thought).

      You do have to trust that your source is not going to tattle on someone looking for work while they’re currently employed. I think the vast majority of people won’t do that, but the risk is there.

  9. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    You may remember a couple months back – where I said = “Before you play on your smart phone, play it smart.”

    The internet can be “forever”. If you post on Facebook that you got gassed last weekend, hugged the porcelain god the week before, and took a two-week stoner jag to Colorado in August – do not be surprised if a potential employer shows concern over that.

    Then again, if the potential hiring firm gets your resume and goes out and searches on their own before they contact you, they just will relegate your application to the circular file, never call you, and move on with the stack.

  10. Roscoe*

    Im always torn on this. Because while I believe its perfectly fine to look up somone’s linkedin profile, I’m on the side of letting their facebook things go. I mean, sure you could discover racist rants. But you could also discover other things that you just don’t like. In this election cycle, can people really say they could be totally neutral if they found out that the candidate was on the complete opposite spectrum? I think that would definitely color somone’s opinion, possibly negatively. If I was judged by my facebook pictures (which aren’t public) then you would have a very different opinion of me than what I portray professionally. I’m of the mind that what someone does on the weekend shouldn’t really have any impact on their job and how they are judged based on that. I guess I see some googling as OK, but there should be a limit on how much and how far back in their social media history you go.

    1. BeezLouise*

      Depending on the job, what you do on the weekend can have a major impact on the job, and I think employers should be allowed (and are allowed!) to take that into account when hiring.

      1. De Minimis*

        We found out a recently resigned coworker has been scamming my employer [including coworkers that had donated money and sick leave] for months. A few of us checked social media postings on various platforms [we all individually had suspicions and it was confirmed after we all got together and starting searching out information.] After this, I now think that if it’s public, it’s fair game.

          1. De Minimis*

            It is, but it would have not gone on for as long as it did if we’d done some more digging earlier on. I would say at least a month or two of salary might have been saved that could have gone toward our programs [we’re a small non-profit.]

            Bad too because we will probably tighten things up and not be quite as employee-friendly [or at least ask for more documentation even for things that normally you might not ask about.]

      2. Roscoe*

        Yeah, but there really are only a handful of jobs where your weekend exploits actually do impact the job.

        1. Kathlynn*

          And I still think that most of the things people in those positions “can’t do” is way too long, and we just need to get our head out of the their windows. (like getting out of people’s bedrooms)

          1. Roscoe*

            Exactly. Even if someone gets super drunk every weekend or is partying on boats with girls in bikini’s, that has absolutely nothing to do with them doing their job.

            1. paul*

              Eh, if you post up time after time about being drunk as hell on a work night, or a lot about being hungover, I might worry about a high rate of absences or a lot of days spent at a lower rate of productivity.

    2. James*

      I think you just have to accept the websites for what they are. LinkedIn is set up for professional purposes; Facebook is set up to share photos and stories with friends.

      I dress differently for work than I do around the house. I wear business casual at work, like most others (sometimes on the “casual” side, but I also spend most of my time on jobsites). If I’m at home, I frequently wear t-shirts and torn jeans. If you judged my work based on my attire at home, yeah, I’d fail miserably–but you’d also have screwed up how you’re judging me, because you’re applying principles specific to one environment to an entirely different one.

      Similarly, Facebook is “at home” online. It’s the casual side of the internet. You can’t expect 100% professional behavior–folks are going to talk politics, religion, and what they did last Friday night. LinkedIn is the “office” online in this context (other areas, such as professional blogs, online journals/magazines, and the like also count). On Facebook you can wear torn jeans and t-shirts; on professional sites it would be wildly inappropriate.

      Of course, like in all things, context matters. Because life is complicated.

      1. Kate*

        But Facebook is not your home. Depending on your settings, the whole world can see “you”: everything you post, what others post about you, who your friends are. And they can spread that information around. Facebook is more like walking around your house naked with the curtains, windows, and doors open in my opinion.

      2. Observer*

        If you Facebook posts are public, that is most emphatically NOT “at home”. Sure, it’s casual, but it’s still public. So maybe the local pizza place, rather than a high priced 5 start restaurant. But, it’s still public. And if you trash start mouthing off about how you don’t like this place anymore because there are too many of “those” people there (Choose your “those”.) it can be held against you. There is no difference between the pizza place and a public posting on facebook.

  11. LawCat*

    I think one has to be very circumspect about this kind of thing and not leap to conclusions based on certain associations. Joining a facebook group or following people on Twitter does not mean someone agrees with that group or those people. Having people say things about you on social media does not make those things true.

    So if you see that applicant Jane is following Racists R Us on Twitter, you don’t know why that is. Is Jane a card-carrying member of Racists R Us? Is Jane worried about Racists R Us and keeping tabs on them? Did Jane think she was clicking on Racecars R Us?

    Did you come across Bill’s facebook posts that say, “Jane is a racist”? Maybe it says “Jane told me she hates racial group X”? You don’t know if Bill is a pathological liar or out to get Jane.

    1. sunny-dee*

      This actually happened to me, when I followed a link in a news post and accidentally +1’d what I will call a “controversial” post with a stray click. I immediately un-+1’d it, but it was out there and so not intentional.

      1. Random Citizen*

        I’ve done this on purpose, too. Liking a tweet is the easiest way to save it, so I’ll “like” anything I found interesting or want to be able to find easily later, including a LOT of controversial political posts, even when I don’t actually _like_ them. My Twitter isn’t currently in my real name, partly for that reason.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I’ve seen several Twitter profiles that say “Likes=Bookmarks” or something like that. I think this is actually a common enough way of using the feature that it doesn’t have to be explicitly stated, but it could definitely help to include something like that if you’re worried about someone who’s not familiar with Twitter stumbling across your profile.

  12. Dean Jackson*

    We had this discussion at work, among a few different high-experience new hires from various companies, and we came up with an interesting middle ground.

    1. Always search for candidates online, if only to find out more questions we could possibly ask.
    2. Only actively take *positive* signal from online searches. Ignore negative signs.
    3. … except if we find things that would be absolute disasters, and we set that bar pretty dang low.

    If I find you tried to assassinate President Reagan and didn’t disclose that earlier when applying, yeah, that’s a no-go. If I find pictures of you drunk online, I just don’t care, unless it was a picture of you drunk at work in a job where that would be pretty unacceptable. (Kindergarten teacher?)

    1. OhNo*

      I like your approach! It seems like a good blend of doing your due diligence, but not judging people too harshly based on what you find.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Yeah, I think this is a good approach, although I’d take into account job-specific disaster signs. I’ve been looking for non-partisan work and have kept my online profile squeaky clean because even perception of partisanship in those jobs is basically disqualifying, and I would 100% expect that they will be checking my online profile for that kind of thing.

    3. paul*

      That’s what we do at work as well, and according to my father (C level in his company) that’s more or less what they do. I think it’s a pragmatic and as fair as possible approach. If you’re posting pictures of yourself in Klan garb, yeah, that’s gonna factor into how we feel about you you know?

  13. HushHush*

    I learned the hard way that we need to google more. The one time we didn’t have someone fill out an application, we just accepted the resume and went about our business. Until he made a comment about “having a hard time adjusting after just getting out of prison.”

    We googled at that point. And now it’s like “Well…that’s why the applications have the request to know if someone has been convicted of a felony before.

    1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

      If convicted felons who have done their time (repaid their debt to society, etc) can’t find meaningful work after getting out then their chances of recidivism (re-offending) goes way up. So while I understand why you’d want to know that about a candidate, if you’re using it to justify not interviewing them at all then that’s crappy.

      1. ZK*

        Depends. There a lot of stupid things that can get you in trouble. Better to be up front on your application/resume than to try and hide it. If you’re upfront with me, I’m going to ask for your side of the story. If you hide it, it’s going to show up in your background check and it’s not going to end well for either of us.

        But is it a position of trust, where the person has to work with money? Did the crime have to do with theft? Then yeah, I would take that into consideration. If it’s they got pissed off at their boss/co-worker and stabbed them with a pen, I’d want to know that too.

        I can’t hire someone who is potentially a danger to other employees or my business, just to maybe keep them from re-offending later. And let’s face it, recidivism rates are pretty freakin’ high.

        1. Oryx*

          But they are pretty freakin’ high for a reason and one of those is that it’s very, very difficult for former inmates to find jobs on the outside. Especially in this job market which is hard enough for individuals without criminal backgrounds.

    2. Alton*

      It would be unfortunate to not consider someone just because they’d been in prison, unless their record is really an issue in the field (and most fields where having any felony conviction at all is a major problem will have careful screening measures). Sure, you may reasonably not want someone who has a very worrisome record, but a lot of ex-cons are just people who made some mistakes, and difficulty finding work is a huge barrier for them.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Uh …. yes and no. I mean, I would be super uncomfortable hiring a convicted child molester, drug dealer, or identity thief, even if the job didn’t involve kids, medicine, or money. There’s just a boatload of potential problems there.

        1. Alton*

          The problem is holding a conviction against someone, regardless of context. Like I said, if someone has a really troubled past, I think it’s understandable to be wary of them. But in that case, it’s the fact that they’re a serial rapist or what have you that’s the issue, not the fact that they have a criminal conviction in general. Bill Cosby hasn’t been convicted, but I’d be wary of hiring him with his reputation.

          A lot of people are turned down simply for having a conviction, no matter what they were convicted of. Also, just knowing that someone has a record doesn’t always say a whole lot. Someone with a drug dealing conviction could have made a bad choice in desperation, and is now trying to make up for it. Someone on the sex offender registry could have made a dumb decision to go streaking. Someone with an assault conviction might have been trying to get away from an abusive partner. Someone with a history of prostitution might be a trafficking victim. It’s worth looking at the whole picture and not just rejecting someone because they were in prison.

          1. nofelix*

            “could have made a bad choice in desperation, and is now trying to make up for it.”

            While I agree with this, how is the interviewer meant to know? All ex-con candidates will say their crime is not representative of who they are now, but only some are being truthful. A good job history would show it, but that still hinges on getting the first job.

        2. W.White*

          Bit unfair to lump drug dealers in with rapists and thieves. Theyre just meeting a need. And, theres a skills crossover with legal business, plus, you might be able to buy drugs off them. Win win all round.

    3. Anna*

      Did the job the person was doing have anything to do with why they were convicted? If not, then what’s the big deal?

      If anyone eats Dave’s Killer Bread, well you’re eating bread made by former convicts who are working now to make a better life for themselves and often their families. There’s a reason many states are working to ban the box.

    4. Anonymous_*

      I’m a small business owner, and we had a candidate who was (then-currently) on the sex offender registry (possession of child pornography). We don’t interact with children (or really, the public), but I’ve got less than no interest in having someone with a past penchant for child porn having access to a computer that I own. Nope. (Among other reasons).

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah it’s difficult to think of crimes that aren’t relevant to a business really. Fraud, theft, vandalism and the like are a threat to the company’s assets. Violent crimes are a threat to colleagues and customers. And generally, employees have to demonstrate honesty and integrity, of which breaking the law is a clear breach.

        I guess if they went to prison for unpaid parking tickets or something I’d ignore that.

  14. BeezLouise*

    I used to work in prospect research (this is essentially where nonprofits and universities do extensive online research on potential donors to determine how much wealth they have and what their interests are), and we would of course also research potential employees. More importantly, perhaps, we would always be surprised if potential employees didn’t take the time to research US — if you’re applying for a job that includes a lot of lurking around people’s social media, you should probably show you have the ability to do so.

    1. A non name today*

      We recently had a candidate not make it past the phone interview for this very reason. She was asked what she knew about Teapots, Inc and responded with “What can you tell me about Teapots, Inc.” with literally no idea we make teapots. As far as she was concerned we could have been manufacturing construction equipment. We’re not researching donors, but we’re definitely doing some serious social media review. We’re not asking that you watch all our videos, memorize tweets, or read case studies about teapots. But you could at least drop by the website and look around enough to know “Hey, teapots!”

    2. Camellia*

      On the other hand, I had a phone interview once where I had researched the company on-line, especially their own website. When I brought up some of this information and asked some related questions during the interview,! the interviewer became very defensive/agressive, saying things like, “Where did you hear that!”, “Where did you get that information!!”. I used exclamation points there instead of question marks because she kept getting more and more combative. I finished the interview as best I could but immediately called the recruiter and told him to remove me from the process. When he asked why, I told him exactly what happened and he said that wasn’t the first time he had heard that. I have no idea what her deal was.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        That is really bizarre. I’m pretty sure that the number one advice before going to an internet is “do your homework.”

  15. Rowan*

    This is the one point on which I strongly disagree with the advice. It’s impossible for our brains to ignore information once we have it. Unconscious bias is pervasive, real, and unavoidable. Alison’s advice to not “allow yourself to be influenced by information that you’re not legally allowed to take into consideration” is just not humanly possible.

    1. Tuckerman*

      I’m trying to recruit and hire more diverse candidates. I would be more comfortable googling a candidate after we met in person.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup. Otherwise, like Rowan mentioned above, unconscious bias can (and probably will) kick in.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I also worry about unintended bias. A facebook page with lots of cat photos could unintentional be interpreted as a candidate with no life and obsesses about things. A candidate with biblical posts could be interpreted as someone who will be preachy at work. Or the candidate liked a post that the researcher’s nemesis liked, therefore the candidate is similar to the nemesis.
      It is so easy to accidentally read into meaningless information just because it is the only information available.
      If I was going to google search anyone, it would be at the final stages of the interview process, after I have met the candidates and they had the chance to make an impression in person.

      1. nofelix*

        It’s not like interviews don’t already suffer from this. Interviewers like people with similar clothes, accents, hobbies, work philosophies etc. as them. It’s up to the interviewer to recognise the relevance of ‘similarity’ vs ‘diversity’ to their organisation.

    3. Koko*

      But it’s also not possible to avoid all sources of information that could influence you.

      Much better to cultivate the discipline to recognize and check your own bias than to pretend you’ve avoided it.

      I not only do hiring, I also rent out an apartment in my home and I’m subject to federal anti-discrimination housing laws. Would I prefer to share my home with a female approximately my age and who seems to occupy a similar social niche as me? Absolutely. But that’s illegal, so I also make a very conscious effort not to let myself be swayed by those factors. I ensure that I could do so by processing applications in the order they arrived and having a clear set of pass/fail and plus/minus criteria that I applied equally to all applicants, so that if I rejected a man’s application and accepted a woman’s I could clearly point to the man having a credit score below my acceptable threshold, which is the same threshold for everyone, or I could clearly point to the woman submitting her application sooner. I have rented the apartment to people who were not my ideal housemates, but they qualified and they got their application in first.

      The idea isn’t to eradicate the bias from your mind which is indeed impossible, it’s to establish objective criteria and be able to explain why you hired someone, pointing to those objective criteria, so that your bias becomes irrelevant to your decision.

      1. TootsNYC*

        “I also rent out an apartment in my home and I’m subject to federal anti-discrimination housing laws.”

        I’m assuming you’ve researched this for your own situation, but normally people who rent out apartments in their homes are NOT subject to federal anti-discrimination laws, as long as there are 4 or fewer.

        “The Fair Housing Acts do not apply to every rental property. Exempt property includes:
        . . .
        Owner-occupied housing: An owner lives in a building with four or fewer units”

        I agree w/ you about the idea of knowing your bias, owning it, and working to minimize it, especially with clear standards.

        1. Koko*

          Yeah, I’ve looked into it. The distinction may only be at my county level, but according to them because it’s a fully self-contained apartment and we only share laundry, I am not exempt. I would be exempt if we shared a kitchen or bathroom.

    4. Jesmlet*

      But that information is info you’d most likely get during an interview anyway. If you have implicit bias against a particular gender or race, that’s not going to go away when you’re in the same room as them. This is why research should be done after an in-person interview IMO. At least then you’ve seen how they professionally conduct themselves and can weigh that against their online presence.

  16. Girasol*

    Is she sure she has the right person? I googled me and found out I was a pole dancer and a hairdresser with a history of bankruptcy.

    1. Mike C.*

      Oh, this is a really good point. If it’s done early in the hiring process then the employer runs the risk of getting rid of a good candidate because of bad information.

      1. Koko*

        I will say I would never rule someone out because of a pre-interview social media search. But I do want to search anyone who’s accepted an interview invitation prior to the interview, because I might turn up something that will inform the kind of questions I ask or the kinds of behaviors I watch for.

        For me, waiting until after the interview to search for them means I’ve given up my best opportunity to get further context and information about whatever I noticed. It’s way more awkward to call up post-interview to try to get more information than to just work the probing questions into the interview.

        If I see on someone’s blog that they seem to have a huge problem with female authority figures, I’m definitely going to mention that our VP is a woman and pay closer attention to his or her reaction, more closely observe how he or she treats other women in the office, and I will probably be less likely to see a mildly off-color joke as “maybe just poor taste/judgment, watch for further signs of trouble” and more likely to see it as “further indication of deep-seeded problem with women.” But if I don’t find his blog until after the interview, am I just going to call him and ask a bunch of questions about women and try to read the tone of his voice over the phone in response?

            1. Fortitude Jones (formerly Christopher Tracy)*

              No it’s not because typically you’d be doing more than one interview anyway.

              1. Koko*

                At my previous two companies, we only did one phone screen and one in-person interview.

                At my current company, second interviews are only done if we’re about to make an offer and just want to check for fit, and then we bring them in to meet the people who would be coworkers and peers. (First phone interview is HR, first in-person interview is first- and second-level manager of the position.)

                Coworkers and peers expect a 90% chance that anyone they do a second interview for is going to be hired (if they don’t it’s nearly always because the candidate didn’t accept our offer), and that they aren’t going to have to do lots of second interviews for one position. Managers don’t attend second interviews.

                So at my last two companies, you’d be asking us to do more interviews than we usually do. And in my current company, you’d be asking the managers to do an additional interview beyond what they usually do.

                If I have lingering doubts about a candidate *after* the interview and there’s another candidate I feel good about, I’m just going to reject the one I have doubts about and move the other candidate to the next stage because hiring takes long enough without adding more delays and extra interviews into the process. I only interview a candidate in person once, and I need to have all my information before I do that interview if the candidate is going to have a good shot.

    2. LawCat*

      This is also a good point. There are several sexy pictures of “me” that turn up in a first level google search.

    3. Camellia*

      I have an unusual first name and a somewhat unusual last name – or so I thought! Google me and you get page after page of someone who is apparently a fantastically successful realtor. At least it’s nothing bad and (hopefully) won’t confuse anyone for long since I am in a totally unrelated field. Believe me, I’m thankful for this!

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’ve Googled names before, and it’s hilarious to see the mix of mugshots for some career criminal right next to some polished headshot of a dentist or realtor.

        I have an old fashioned name (I’m named after my grandmother) and if you Google me, you get a mix of info about the real me and then also the me that apparently died in 1889. :(

    4. Get a Haircut*

      Yeah, something similar happened to me. There happens to be another me, who specializes in a different subset of Teapots, which I only dabble in. He said he found my website (I also have one), but he had doppleganger’s. …And he wondered why I said that subset was only a subset, when he saw it all over the other person’s site. I would’ve corrected him, had I realized, but it was impossible to get a word in edgewise… Kinda glad it didn’t work out, but yes, these things happen.

    5. LizM*

      According to wikipedia (the first hit on a google search of my name), I’m a British politician born in 1928, and there is an elementary school in Texas named after me.

      Both fairly harmless, but it’s something to be careful of.

    6. seriouslywtf*

      I have this issue. If you google me (common first name, uncommon last name) there are plenty of hits of other people. If you’re looking at a blog or something with no picture attached how do they know if it’s me or not?? There are other people in my city with my name, so that isn’t even enough to narrow it down. I think googling candidates is completely unfair for this reason. You may be letting things other people with their name have said online influence your hiring decision. That is completely unforgivable.

    7. Brett*

      At last employer, we had a group of online activists wage a campaign against us. Part of that campaign was waging SEO disinformation to purposely make people appear to be various types of bigots or frame them for felonies and have those results jam the first page of searches (think 20+ fake news sites with fake stories and fake comment sections complete with real pictures taken from facebook). Interestingly enough a counter-activist group went around taking down the fake websites and scrubbing search engines.

  17. LaurenB*

    I was recently involved in a hiring process but the decision didn’t rest with me. I am insatiably curious about people (I google just about everyone I meet, and am surprised when people don’t do the same for me) so I naturally looked at their LinkedIn profiles and didn’t report back on anything to my manager. We’re government so pretty much nothing other than application materials which are carefully scored can officially be taken into consideration.

    I found that one of our candidates was married, and since we were hiring for a short-term contract in the middle of nowhere I figured she wouldn’t accept. (She didn’t actively apply for the job, but was matched through a program for graduates.) I was concerned when my manager selected her as the only suitable candidate, but again, I didn’t say anything. Well, she accepted and was brilliant and was fine being away from her husband for a few months. It would have been discriminatory and just a Really Bad Decision for us had I allowed my presumptions about her to colour my decision. Fortunately I learned a lesson without having been actually in charge of messing things up!

    1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Thank you thank you! I got married on the younger side and I do feel like it’s negatively impacted my career. Lots of interviews which are consumed by talk of my “family plans” (hint, hint) and even though I’m fine with long distance until my husband can join me, I have yet to get an interview outside of the metro area we’re trying to leave.

      Again, thanks!

    2. Susan*

      I had a college friend whose fiance was of Venezuelan descent so he absolutely had to work if he wanted to stay in the country. They didn’t want to get married just because of that because it didn’t seem romantic to them. After graduation, he got a job in Florida and she worked in Oregon. They actually ended up getting married while living in separate states, and continued to live in separate states for a full year before she got a job in Florida!

  18. Friday*

    I had the same thing happen to me – I was a 25-year-old new manager and hiring someone for a warehouse job. I had a candidate who was definitely old enough to be protected age class, probably about my dad’s age. We had an OK interview where he was gruff, but did a good job showing us how he could do the job. And after, I googled him. Found his FB which was open to the public, filled to the brim with him and hot models, him and professional cheerleaders, him at Hooters, etc. etc. I took a hard NOPE which my boss thoroughly supported, but others in the organization were shocked, shocked! I say, to find out that I’d judge him on that. I have never regretted it.

    1. Mirve*

      I’m not really sure what you were objecting to either. You specifically mention his age, would it have been a more acceptable FB page if he were younger?

      1. sunny-dee*

        Uh, yeah, it would be. A 25-year-old dude stalking / photo-bombing Hooters waitresses is just a stupid, horny 20-something who likes busty women. But doing it at 50 is really unseemly.

        I have no idea if that should factor into a hiring decision, but in personal or social situations, it would set my radar off.

    2. Roscoe*

      So I guess I”m confused. What is the problem with him at hooters or with models or cheerleaders?

      1. James*


        First, a place like Hooters isn’t adverse to that sort of thing–it’s free advertisement. The models/cheerleaders may be another issue, but if the photos aren’t stalker-ish (ie, if it’s obvious he was posing with them and they were aware of it) where exactly is the problem?

        Second, does this affect his ability to do the job? I know multiple people who hang out in places like this, but who do perfectly fine at their jobs. Everyone has their own idea of fun, and our society is open enough to cater to a wide variety of such concepts.

    3. Jesmlet*

      So the dude likes to have fun on the weekends and you’re going to hold that against him? This would probably make me like the guy more, especially if he could clearly do the job. I’m curious as to what you were interpreting that was relevant to the position you were hiring for.

    4. EyesWideOpen*

      I think this story sums up the problem with googling candidates and bias/prejudice. Would the fact that this guy had pictures taken with hot models or professional cheerleaders impacted his ability to do the job? I doubt it. As long as the women in the photos were of legal age what is wrong with this? I say that as a woman.

    5. misspiggy*

      Why would you judge somebody professionally for that? None of it’s illegal or would affect the judgement and skills needed for a warehouse job, I’m guessing. I’d be judging him personally, and wouldn’t want to hang out with him as a friend, most definitely. But enough to say no to them as an employee? I’m finding that hard to get my head around.

    6. Friday*

      Thank you all for your comments – interesting takes on it. FWIW, I did end up hiring a man the same age as the other guy, but he was professional, and we had a great working relationship for years. My bias in not hiring the other guy was that he gave me a very clear window into how he preferred to view women my age – scantily clad, entertaining him. I knew there was something up in his interview, where he was qualified but hard to get a “read” on, and he also preferred to talk to my male boss over me.

      1. Roscoe*

        That seems like a leap. Just because he had pictures like that, your assumption was that he must view women your age a certain way? That may be one of the more judgmental things I’ve read on here in a long time.

      2. For what it's worth...*

        Trust your instincts. We’re always telling people here to do that and I see this as no different. Your last line especially is an early indicator of what working with him would have been like.

        1. nofelix*

          Honestly that last line about talking to her male boss should be the real and only reason not to hire him.

      3. Stardust*

        Definitely think you could pass on the candidate just for talking to the other (male) interviewer and more ignoring you. I’ve been in an interview where that was the reason the team passed on the candidate – we didn’t want a teammate that couldn’t work professionally with all people.

  19. INTP*

    I don’t feel that it’s invasive or unfair to Google a candidate before an interview, and examine clearly public profiles and information on the top pages of google results. (Obviously, digging deep, friending someone from a fake account, finding their popular screen names and using that to find sites where they aren’t under their real name, etc are different.)

    That said, I can also see the coworkers’ point of view. You are likely to find information about someone’s protected class memberships from a facebook page so if the company is trying to make the hiring process as fair and legal as possible, I think it’s reasonable to have a policy against it, or to limit it to, say, a linkedin page and whatever is linked to from the linkedin page. Times are tense right now, and even if you strive to be fair it can be hard not to draw conclusions about a person’s character or critical thinking skills from their political affiliations, religious affiliations, and similar (from all sides).

    I like the idea mentioned upthread of having a third party employee do the googling (or even just, say, the recruiting assistant who passes along all viable candidates) – they can notify you if there are clear demonstrations of a lack of judgment OR positive results like an insightful blog, without other information subconsciously influencing the decision makers.

  20. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I feel that Googling a person can often bring up their sexual orientation/relationships/gender identity. And you can’t expect someone to lock down such a huge part of their identity in their online presence.

    Sure, many states have protections, but over half don’t; and even where they do, there’s usually no recourse.

    Kindly don’t Google me. I don’t have anything inappropriate, but if you did I would be worried about bias.

    1. Experiment 626*


      While I’m all over the internet and I’m comfortable with how I’m presenting myself, someone else’s bias of my home/social lifestyle and hobbies shouldn’t be considered for hiring. Not everybody will approve or even understand what I do with myself on my own time, I promise I won’t do them at work.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Same here. I’m same-sex married in a blue state, and monogamous. But I’m really outspoken on LGBT rights of course!

        That doesn’t mean I’ll argue at work; I don’t talk about it there as long as no one is harassing me.

  21. Mike C.*

    Given the risk of letting bias creep into the hiring process, I would leave googling candidates to the later stages of the hiring process, and not being judgemental of things that do not affect the business environment.

    1. EyesWideOpen*

      Agreed! At a later stage it makes sense and possibly together with a background check if the candidate makes it that far based on their skills, experience and culture fit.

  22. Meg Murry*

    To me what seems off is that OP mentions she only Googled one of the candidates. It’s not clear to me whether that was the only candidate she could find on Google, or whether she stopped after that candidate when mentioning it to her co-workers. I do think this is a case of “treat all applicants fairly” – so if she Googled one, and checked out their Facebook page, she should do the same to all.

    I also think that perhaps this should come later in the process, perhaps after you’ve reviewed the application materials and picked who you will phone screen or interview, or at least set aside a “yes” “maybe” and “no” pile. Because looking at Facebook, etc could cause unconscious bias once you see that a candidate is a woman, is a person of color, etc. I know everyone likes to think that they aren’t racist, etc – but knowing that “Michelle Jones” is a woman of color might cause you to evaluate her resume subconsciously through a different lens than if you hadn’t been able to find her or if you found someone who shares your same cultural/racial background.

    I don’t think “never Google or look at Facebook” is reasonable, but I do think you should wait until
    1) You’ve already screened the materials they submitted
    2) You’ve met them or have some other way to confirm that you hit upon the correct “Michelle Jones” Facebook page.

  23. shirley*

    Our organization hires people around the country who will be working with children and representing us in public and online. A Google/Facebook search is the first thing we do before we even consider them for an interview. If they are in their local paper for disorderly behavior, are publicly racist or otherwise offensive, or exhibit poor judgment in their posts, we have to take that into account. What you post online speaks a great deal to your level of judgment, tact, and values and “poor online presence” is a very easy way for us to screen out candidates whom we would not trust to make decisions on behalf of the kids they’re supposed to be mentoring.

    1. Roscoe*

      But even the “poor judgment” is super subjective. What is poor judgment to my grandmother, and what is poor judgement to my current boss are so wildly different that it just brings up too many issues.

      1. shirley*

        “Poor judgment” is pretty clear when it comes to dealing with children and schools. Do you start public fights on your open facebook page with your child’s father? Do you post photos of you texting and driving? Do you post about your drug use? Have you been on Divorce Court suing your former husband for cat support? (I’m not making this up.) If our kids or their parents would find you on Facebook and this is what you’re posting, it’s fair game for us to evaluate it and determine whether or not you’d be a good fit for our organization.

        1. Roscoe*

          When I was a teacher, there were definitely pictures of me drinking. For some schools, that would be enough to disqualify me. But what I’m doing is perfectly legal (and technically drug use, just not illegal drug use).

        2. Mike C.*

          By drugs, what do you mean? Alcohol and tobacco? Where does marijuana fit, if it’s being consumed in states that allow for it? The Divorce Court thing doesn’t mean anything to me because those sorts of show usually pay a decent chunk of money and like all “reality tv shows” are heavily edited for entertainment purposes. What sort of things are parents going to object to, and are their objections a fair and legal measure to choose candidates?

          Look, I’m sure you have a clear idea as to what is and isn’t reasonable but if you don’t at least have a clear rubric for this sort of thing, it’s really easy to start favoring/eliminating people for reasons that range from having nothing to do with the business at hand to inadvertent discrimination for/against protected classes.

      2. TootsNYC*

        but your current boss is entitled to demand that job candidates’ idea of “poor judgment” matches his.

        This isn’t about deciding whether the candidate is a decent human being.
        It’s about deciding whether the candidate is a good fit about this job, and this job only.

        1. Roscoe*

          Sure. And I think that once you hire (or offer a job to) someone, you can set some social media parameters. HOWEVER, I don’t think you should let that decide whether they are capable of doing the job.

  24. Allison*

    I think it’s a waste of time to Google everyone who applies for a job, but it’s natural to want to look someone up if something seems “off” about their application, or if you feel it’s missing important information.

    1. Recruit-o-rama*

      I think if you’re going to google people in your hiring process, it’s important to pick a point in the process and do it to everyone who makes it to the same point in the process. I think an important part of keeping our unconscious biases in check is to have a consistent process that we use with all candidates in the same way. Just my two cents.

    2. H.C.*

      Agreed — the most common reason for my Googling candidates was when their portfolio materials seemed off (typos, weird layouts, etc.) to see if these are prevalent mistakes in other stuff they’ve bylined.

  25. SusanIvanova*

    “just like you wouldn’t interview all candidates behind a screen”

    And yet… more women musicians got hired for orchestras when they started auditioning like that.

    1. Anna*

      I was in grad school with a woman who worked for the local PBS station. To erase as much implicit bias as possible she made copies of all the resumes with names and addresses left off so the people reviewing them couldn’t be influenced by a particularly “ethnic” sounding name or for living in an area known to be heavily populated by one group or another.

      Implicit bias is an actual thing and if you can do things to remove as much of it as possible, then I’m all for it.

    2. RVA Cat*

      If only these blind interviews were feasible for more industries – making it sort of like The Voice.

      Maybe a chat session for the initial screening (replacing the phone screen, where gender factors in, also ethnic/regional accents etc.) where the interview can’t tell which candidate it is?

    3. Jesmlet*

      This is a nice idea but just not realistic for most industries. The nice thing about orchestras is behind a screen, applicants can still clearly demonstrate their talent. For more traditional jobs, there’s a lot in face to face communication that is relevant. If hiring for a sales role, I want to know someone can carry themselves confidently, hold eye contact, things like that that you can’t tell behind a screen and with a voice distorter. Better to work on removing implicit bias by exposing our children to many different people from different walks of life at a young age than to use things like screens as band-aids and never consider other options.

      1. LQ*

        How would you feel about just taking names off the resumes for the initial review? If you want to push it off the initial review and off any technical tests it could be taken off?

        It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    4. James*

      Maybe such a screening method would work for a field where only technical skill matters–music, programing, or something of that nature. But can you imagine attempting to hire someone in HR in this manner? Or a manager? An executive? In any field where interpersonal skill matters, this sort of test would be impossible.

      My company is in the process of hiring someone, and a MAJOR aspect of the hiring process is whether we can work 10 to 16 hour days with the person. Partially this is because we have a well-established team; partially this is because working 10 to 16 hour days in harsh conditions sucks, and you really don’t want to deal with someone complaining the whole time. There’s simply no way to evaluate that sort of thing via any test of technical skill or single-blinded or double-blinded interview process.

    5. Observer*

      Which speaks to the presence of bias. But, in real life, you can’t do that, so it’s stupid to pretend that you are.

  26. JPToday*

    I read this more as ” dont Google them before you meet them” not ” Don’t Google them at all”. I can see an argument for that and would actually agree with that. Doing a social media check on someone is fairly quick n not as invasive as a background check. Most likely there wont be much unsual activity and if there is it can be clarified during a second interview or the candidate can just be rejected.

  27. Akcipitrokulo*

    I disagree… thankfully, so does my company! It’s part of the policies we all have to sign that you may not do a search on any prospective employee with the sole exception of Linkedin.

  28. Mostly Sarcasm*

    In this case, the hiring manager is hiring interns, people with no professional experience. Part of the point of an internship is to learn professional norms, and your typical 20-something might not know to clean up their online presence yet.
    How would a hiring manager find anything useful in this case? If it was me, I would cut the candidatea all sorts of slack about what I found.

    1. Jesmlet*

      This is a good point. When you’re hiring someone still in college, much more slack should be given.

      1. Mostly Sarcasm*

        I’m in my late-20s, and posted all sorts of silly or immature things on the internet as a teenager before I realised that stuff was up there forever. It’s a different time now, people are more aware of it.

        Also, the internet wasn’t really the same kind of public place that it is now. It was, in my mind, just the domain of fellow nerds.

  29. Jady*

    “like allowing yourself to be influenced by information that you’re not legally allowed to take into consideration, such as that the candidate is pregnant, or what her religion is. ”

    I think this is a much bigger deal than how this is described.

    In the end though, you can’t prevent people from using google. That would never be even remotely possible.

  30. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I had a coworker freak out because I found that he had prior convictions. It was many years ago, when he was much younger, but it was for domestic disturbance and drug charges. The thing is, court records are on the internet in my area, so anyone could have found it. I regularly check my name to make sure that no one has filed a “sewer service” suit against me or my family. Still, he seemed a stable and decent person at the time, so I didn’t think any worse of him because of it….until he complained to our boss that I had looked at these public records. My boss had no idea about these convictions until HE said something. So maybe his judgement hadn’t improved as much as I thought.

    1. TootsNYC*

      If you let him know that you’d looked him up, I think that was poor judgment on your part.

      I have a lot of sympathy with his position. Trying to put your past behind you can be SO hard. And if you were willing to look him up, AND to somehow let him know that you had done so, then who else would you tell? And who else would find their opinion of him colored by the screwups of his younger years instead of his “stable and decent person” reputation that he’d worked so hard to fulfill?

    2. Oryx*

      Yeah, I’m with TootsNYC on this. Many job applications — at least those that still ask about prior convictions — have a time limit on them. So, within the past 5 or 10 years or so. There’s no reason your boss would know if it was outside of that time limit and/or the job application didn’t ask.

      You’re acting as if this co-worker was hiding this from you both for nefarious reasons when, in reality, he just wasn’t admitting information that wasn’t necessary for him to provide and which proves that if he HAD informed you and/or your boss he probably wouldn’t have gotten hired.

  31. Tiny_Tiger*

    I’m very iffy on this. Even with just a regular Google search, this is no way to guarantee that you’re looking at the right person without having met them first. If a look at Facebook is just a cursory glance to make sure that they aren’t wildly, outspoken racists or something of that nature then, OK, that makes sense. But if you start diving into pictures and posting histories then I will have to say “It’s none of your business.” My entire Facebook is set to private specifically to avoid a situation like this because there are things on there that I would be judged for, some pretty severely depending on the person, and none have anything to do with my professional life or my conduct in my professional life.

  32. James*

    I caught flak for this earlier, but I stand by my previous statement: It’s a good idea to cultivate a professional web presence. That way, when an employer searches Google for your name, something other than Facebook comes up. It’s one reason I like the idea of college students setting up a website for themselves–not as currently done by universities, but the concept is valid. It gives the student control over their web presence, and a chance at establishing a professional internet identity.

    As for not using Google, such a requirement would be stupid. Google exists. It’s entrenched in our culture. And at this point, it’s rather naïve to think people won’t use it. Could it expose you to information you’re not legally allowed to use during the hiring process? Sure–but so could knowing the candidate’s name (be honest, if you saw the name “Mohammed” as a first name your first thought would NOT be “This is a Chinese woman”). And single-blinded interviews are a horrible idea, for a host of reasons immediately obvious to anyone who puts serious thought into them. There is no way to completely prevent any information that could unfairly or illegally sway opinions from reaching those interviewing job candidates and still have an effective interview process. It’s up to the interviewers to be honest and rational enough to comply with the regulations, and with their managers to enforce compliance.

    I get the pushback against using Facebook, because Facebook was never really intended to be a public forum in the way it is now. It started as a way for college kids to share information, after all. But other websites are quite obviously fair game, including public records, newspaper articles about you, papers and essays you published, etc. And Google is the most obvious place to start looking for the majority of the US population at least.

    We live in the digital age. Assume your digital presence will be noted during the hiring process. Trying to prevent it is, at this point, not significantly different from donning armor, picking up a lance, and trying to defeat windmills.

  33. BananaPants*

    I Google *all* of the candidates after I interview them – including interns. I never tell them about it or mention what I saw but it does occasionally give important info. Frankly, if someone has a Confederate flag as their public Facebook profile photo or has publicly posted racist/sexist/anti-LGBT rants in comment sections of online news stories, I think that’s useful information for me to have as their potential coworker or supervisor. Some idiot who’s tweeted about female engineers being dumb bimbos is not going to work out well on an engineering team that’s 1/3 female (most of them early career).

    I’ve found red flags only 2-3 times and only on one occasion was the person hired. It was a summer intern who had spent the previous summer publicly Tweeting about how he hated his internship and was surrounded by idiots who just didn’t appreciate his abilities. He was just as obnoxiously full of himself when he worked here, which is why he was not asked to return for a repeat internship.

  34. BePositive*

    I be surprised if people don’the google I use Linked in all the time for this purpose and consider Google 2nd.

    FYI – my name happened to be same as a pornstar star when I was younger. was 1st hit before my name Wonder how my potential employers felt about that one

  35. Not just true for small companies...*

    Our company’s policy for hiring explicitly states we (as interviewers) cannot google or look potential candidates up on social media. I work for a large corporation (40,000+ employees worldwide) with a pretty conservative HR department. I believe I asked about this one time because I came from a small start-up where this was completely normal and I was given the “it can create bias that may factor subconsciously into hiring decisions” answer. So I don’t think it it just about a company not knowing what they are doing when it comes to hiring, but also not wanting any perception of making hiring decisions based on personal biases that could come back to us legally.

    1. Gyrfalcon*

      I work in an administrative department in higher ed, and for our Hires we are also similarly forbidden by HR from googling candidates. We were also advised (required?) to make a list of questions that we asked all the candidates. Plus we were required to turn in all our notes from the interviews for HR to keep on file for X number of years (and were actually discouraged from taking notes at all).

      I think all of this is intended to provide protection from lawsuits. I don’t know if there are similar strictures for hiring on the academic side, or for hiring for higher up admin positions (e.g. president, dean, etc.).

      I can’t say if this is all wrong, right, or paranoid over precaution, but it’s one snapshot of being in the 23%.

      1. Gyrfalcon*

        In contrast, if I were looking for a position elsewhere, I would certainly expect to be googled.

        I volunteer as a course assistant for an online course, and we Google students who we’re thinking of inviting to be course assistants. (The initial idea to invite comes from observing their contributions in course forums, but then as Alison indicates, we Google for the purpose of having more information about them.)

  36. Susan*

    I always Google my interviewers, actually. I like to know what background they’re from (like my current manager has a journalism background–as do I–even though the job was in marketing). It helps me with my answers in some ways, because I know what references and parallels they’ll understand if I bring them up. I also think it’s helpful if you can find pictures, especially if there’s multiple interviewers. I get anxious during interviewers (most of us do, right?), so I like to feel like I don’t have to remember names on the fly. Usually you can find a short bio on the company website or LinkedIn. I didn’t think any of this was wrong, invasive, or stalker-ish. I just want to be prepared.

    1. Office Plant*

      I do this too. I don’t look for scandalous stuff, and I don’t dig too deep. But I like to get a sense of what their interests are, both professionally and outside of work. It makes it easier to connect. (And, well, to ace the interview. Hopefully this doesn’t count as cheating.)

  37. Rocky*

    The “unconscious bias” factor is a total red herring as far as I’m concerned. Unconscious bias will be introduced at some point in the process (I mean, someone’s name can suggest their ethnicity, and they might list things on their resume that indicate their faith or values), and you should cultivate awareness of it, not think you can eliminate it somehow.

    Also, if I’m Googling a candidate and see a bunch of anti-LGBTQ screeds, for example, it’s not unconscious bias for me to eliminate them. My organization has a mission-level commitment to diversity, and several high-profile initiatives directed at LGBTQ clients, so why wouldn’t I factor that into my decision about whom I hire to represent us?

    1. Office Plant*

      Yes, but it’s kind of a slippery slope. If you look up their Facebook account and see other people making bigoted comments on their posts, how can you tell if they run with that kind of crowd or if they’re unfortunate enough to have relatives or acquaintances with those views? Maybe they’re scared to unfriend these people or maybe they agree with them but aren’t saying so publicly.

      And what about stuff that’s in that gray area . . . like an old social media account listing questionable taste in music. Stuff that makes people seem less likeable but isn’t something that would come to mind when thinking about discrimmination.

      1. James*

        How is “questionable taste in music” a gray area? Music tastes have nothing–nothing–to do with work or your ability to fit into the company culture. The people I work with listen to a lot of country and “souther-fried” rock (Leonard Skyanrd, that sort of thing). In contrast, I listen to Celtic music and heavy metal (not as different as you’d think–see Nightwish/Leaves Eyes). And we get along great, because music comes up so rarely at work that it simply doesn’t matter.

        If you’re worried that someone enjoying different music than you, or different hobbies, or the like will influence your opinion of a potential job candidate, I’d say that’s an admission of incompetence, not a “gray area”. A person who would be influenced by that is petty. And to be honest, I’d rather not work for someone who’s going to be that wound up about stuff like that.

        1. Office Plant*

          See the comments about unconscious bias. There are a lot of things that could unfairly influence your impression of a job candidate.

  38. Cranston*

    Hmm, as a gay person, this makes me very uncomfortable, since there are no hiring protections for lgbt people in many states. Unfortunately, it seems to be the norm, though, so I keep my social media accounts on lockdown and hope for the best.

  39. Kate*

    When I was a hiring manager I absolutely Googled candidates. Usually you find very little and nothing that makes them unemployement, but I do like to put a face to a name.

    And then there’s when you find the “no absolutely do not hire this person” information, like when I found a public Facebook profile for an interviewee full of hate speech against LGTBQ persons. Having several people employed who fell under that umbrella that would be working alone, for 8-12 hours at a time with this person was a no go for the company.

  40. cheeky*

    I have a truly unique name- no one else has it, period. I keep tabs on what shows up in a google search of my name- so far, it’s only stuff related to work or educational accomplishments, plus some stuff from other family members, but I think it’s crappy that companies google people. So many people have generic names, so it’s hard to tell if you’re looking at the right Mike Smith, anyway. And for the rest of us, we have to be extra careful.

  41. Not IT but A funky tech*

    I feel very strongly that you should NOT do this type of sleuthing at an early stage (before in person interviews). Sure go for it afterwards to make your final decision but everyone has unconscious bias and looking them up ahead of time will impact your opinion of them whether you intend for that or not. This means you may screen out candidates you would otherwise interview based on unintentional bias. I almost always agree with Alison 100% but respectfully disagree on this one.

  42. Office Plant*

    I think it’s fine to have someone scan for obvious red flags, but I disagree with Googling candidates for a lot of the reasons that have already been mentioned.

    You are responsible for curating your web presence to the extent that you can. But it’s not entirely within your control. People who do things that are open to the public without being invested in being a public figure are especially vulnerable to this. Vulnerable because of all the amateur documentarians with Flickr accounts, YouTube channels, etc. For some reason, some of these people really like including subjects’ full names and using a lot of hashtags and cross-site postings. It takes a lot of work to compete with that. And people don’t always take things down when you ask them to.

    There can also be mistaken identity issues. Or someone actually being impersonated by someone who’s trying to harass them.

    So you need a way around all those issues. Doing a criminal background check instead of Googling seems the most fair.

  43. Nico M*

    Im taking away: NEVER EVER use your real name on teh internets unless is it is essential to the purpose (eg lknkedin)

  44. JanetInSC*

    There are several people on google with the same name as me…how can you be sure you have found the correct person, before actually meeting him. I think it’s okay to google someone after the initial interview, but not before.

  45. Mephyle*

    I’m flabbergasted at the idea that “it is not okay to look someone up before an interview because what I find might ‘color my opinion of them’ and that my own personal judgments might get in the way.”

    Does he also think it’s not okay to ask the candidates questions in the interview because it might colour your opinion of them? To me it seems like a short leap.

  46. Smiling Everyday*

    I looked up someone on Google after an interview. Was so glad I did. He was interviewing for an accounting position. In his last accounting position he had been fired for embezzlement and was under federal investigation.

    I also used Facebook as a way to help decide between 2 candidates who seemed to have similar qualifications. One had a locked profile, but a polite, friendly looking picture. The other had a completely open profile with pictures of her taking a bubble bath. It was a position that required a lot of decorum and confidentiality. I chose the candidate who didn’t feel the need to bare it all to the public.

  47. Aloot*

    When I was job searching, I attended a class where an employee came and had a talk – and they straight out said that they do google applicants, so do please look over your Facebook account and either adjust the security settings or delete things that won’t give employers a good impression. (Same for Instagram and Twitter if that would come up with a google search.)

    But they didn’t do it with *every* applicant – just the ones that were already called in for an interview or being considered for second round interview.

    The rationale was that employing someone was the business investing in that person, so they wanted to make sure they went with a good choice.

  48. YetAnotherAlison*

    For what it’s worth, when I’ve served on search committees at my [public university] job, we’ve been instructed not to Google anyone beforehand, ostensibly for legal reasons. Presumably we might see that a candidate is a person of color or old or disabled or something, and there’d be no way to prove it didn’t influence our decision to call them in for an interview. But our hiring process is inept enough as it is that I won’t assume this is normal or good practice.

  49. Robert*

    I suppose that most people are okay with being googled. I lost my entire family in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake disaster when I was 12 years old. Every prospective employer will, regardless of their intentions, undoutedbly uncover news articles describing a profound personal tragedy that I experienced as a child. Do you honestly think that I want to disclose that type of information to my future employer?

    My personal integrity is a lot more important than your need for damage control. Recruiters really ought to stay clear of the candidate’s personal life altogether. Remember that the best talents will never be short of options and you really ought to treat them like human beings.

    I am certainly not interested in working for a firm that thinks of their next hire as a potential liability. What does that say about their organization? What could they possible offer me?

Comments are closed.