Hiring decisions can make or break a business. Great hires can take a business to new heights: bringing expertise, enthusiasm and increased profitability. A terrible hire, on the other hand, results in wasted time, money and effort. It can result in unhappy clients, workplace tensions and even in litigation. This is especially true in smaller companies, where virtually every team member plays an important role.
Traditionally, hires were made based on education, work history, the interview process and recommendations. The problem with that is resumes can be deceptive. Recommendations can be unreliable. Interviews only let you see the candidate when they are "on".
Fortunately, thanks to the proliferation of social media outlets, there are many new ways for businesses to get a far more revealing and realistic perspective on prospective hires.
Once you've pared down your applicant list to a small group of finalists, it is a great idea to perform some online research on your top candidates. There is a wealth of information available online and that information can help you to avoid disastrous hires and to help locate the very best candidates for the open position.
The "Google" Search
The first step in the process is to simply Google the candidate's name. Obviously, this works for any of the major search engines, including Yahoo! and Bing.
Since there are many common names revealing multiple results, it is often necessary to narrow the search with additional keywords. You can pair the candidate's name with their prior employer, their college, or their area of expertise. As a rule, it won't take very long to find the person you're looking for.
There are a few key searches you should conduct: "Web," "Blogs," "Videos (or YouTube)" and "Images."
- The "Web" search will give a general overview of the candidate's online presence. Results will include registrations on social media sites (discussed below), any press coverage, and any published writings.
- The "Blogs" search will show if the candidate is a blogger (can give great insights into the talents and personality of the candidate). It will also show if the candidate's name shows up in other blogs.
- The "Images" search will show any photographs where the candidate is tagged. In our experience, the "Images" search has come up with photos of the candidate looking either drunk, high or engaged in some other inappropriate behavior. A single photograph of a candidate having fun at a party shouldn't necessarily be damaging. But multiple photos of the candidate engaging in questionable behavior should raise a red flag or two.
- The "Video" search will turn up any videos either created by your candidate or featuring your candidate. This is yet another way to see your candidate with their "hair down." It is also a great opportunity to see their creativity, personality and judgment.
While there are hundreds of social media sites, you can gain valuable information by checking out the candidate on several of the most popular sites.
With over 50 million registered users, there is a good chance you'll find your candidate on LinkedIn. If you do, use the information to:
- Compare work history with resume
- Compare education with resume
- Read online recommendations
- See if the candidate has participated in discussions (a good way to measure the candidate's expertise and qualifications)
With over 500 million users, your candidate is even more likely to be found on Facebook. Facebook gives registrants the opportunity to set their privacy settings (essentially shutting out unwanted visitors), but you'd be surprised how many people have unfiltered Facebook pages.
Some employers have been known to contact "friends" of prospective employees to get a look at any photos the would-be hire has posted.
Facebook postings often provide insights into the candidate's personality.
- Would this person fit in with your company's corporate culture?
- Does the candidate complain openly about a current or past employer?
- Do the postings reveal anything about the candidate's expertise?
- Are there any indications of racism, sexism, homophobia or other attitudes that could prove damaging to your business?
MySpace once dominated the social media scene, but has been overwhelmed by Facebook. Nevertheless, there are over 200 million users. Since MySpace profiles include education and work history, it is another tool to verify the contents of the candidate's resume. Also, since MySpace allows for greater personalization than either Facebook or LinkedIn, it can give further insights into the candidate's interests, personality and quirks.
An individual's Twitter account can be very revealing. On the positive side, it can show a person's creativity, humor, intelligence and interests.
On the negative side, it can show if the candidate is "Tweeting" all day long or is sending out inappropriate "Tweets." Major red flags should go up if the candidate is Tweeting negatively about a current or past employer or colleagues.
While it may seem a bit like "stalking," doing a thorough social media search on job candidates can help a business avoid serious headaches (and worse) in the future. It is an effective and inexpensive way of getting the critical information that can make the difference between a great and terrible hire.
Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven website design and online marketing company based in Union Square, Manhattan. Read more about Gabriel here.