Get a Life

By Judith Welles

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Get a Life!: Perils of googling applicants

We have all heard the downside about posting personal information on social-networking sites. Future employers might be put off by that party photo you included or your not-so-funny comments.

Now the Merit Systems Protection Board has cautioned hiring officials about using online search engines to vet job applicants. In the September “Issues of Merit” newsletter, MSPB describes the pitfalls of using Internet information, even casually, in the pre-selection process.

The article uses the example of an information technology manager who, being tech savvy, decides to google the three applicants in the best-qualified group to see what other information he can find before interviewing them. He finds the family Web site for a female candidate, which mentions that her husband often travels. He worries that she might not be able to do the travel required in the job.

He googles the second candidate and finds news stories naming him as a suspect in an Internet fraud scheme. The third candidate expresses support for a presidential candidate on his MySpace blog.

The article points out that the selecting official might find information on the Internet that he is not permitted to know, such as marital status, race, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Once such information is learned, it is hard to unlearn it, which can leave a manager vulnerable to discrimination charges.

Also, news reports may or may not be about the same applicant if the name is common or if the person is a victim of identity theft.

Bottom line: If you are planning to use Internet searches to learn more about applicants, you could be setting yourself up for claims of discrimination, or you could disqualify applications on the basis of false information.

MSPB advises organizations to take care when using Internet searches during the selection process.

Judy Welles

Posted by Judith Welles on Oct 02, 2008 at 12:13 PM


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