Thursday, January 24, 2013
On Googling Job Candidates
I don’t know if I’m just the fluky exception or if this is indicative of a larger truth, but I don’t Google job candidates.
I hadn’t really thought about it until the MLA conference. In the course of discussion there, someone who’s on the market talked about what hiring committees find when they Google her. I mentioned that I don’t Google candidates. Everyone acted like I had admitted still believing in the Tooth Fairy. But my practice makes sense, and I suspect I’m not the only one.
Hiring managers, and people on search committees, have to go through some pretty specific training from HR about the kinds of questions we are and aren’t allowed to ask. Certain topics are entirely off limits unless the candidate volunteers them; even then, you shouldn’t pursue.
The idea behind those rules is twofold. One, certain kinds of personal knowledge can form the basis of biased judgments, and we don’t want those to prevail. That can happen inadvertently among people of conscious goodwill, so it’s better just to prevent the opportunity from arising. Second, once you know something, it’s impossible to un-know it. If I didn’t know that Jen was a Yankee fan, then my decision not to hire her had nothing to do with my low opinion of Yankee fans. But if I knew, it’s hard to disprove the influence.
In an interview, you can craft your questions to avoid troublesome areas. When checking references, you can do pretty much the same thing, adjusting for the third person. Yes, some people slip through the interview and then disappoint when they get the job, but I’ve had pretty great results over the years with the people I’ve hired. Not perfect, but the batting average is far better than, say, Jeter’s. With experience and forethought, it’s possible to learn much of what you actually need to know through the applications and interviews.
But on Google, anything goes, and it goes with varying degrees of accuracy. And I say that as an avowed fan of Google.
Some people have relatively common names. (If you Google my name, you land first on a triathlete. It’s not a striking resemblance.) Even if you find the right person, you may or may not be able to trust the source on which you landed. Or, worse, you may find out something you can’t un-know. And then you have a real problem.
I just have a hard time squaring the relatively astringent rules for interview questions with the anything-goes information available online. My personal solution is to separate the two. There may be a better way, but I haven’t found it.
Yet for all this, job candidates seem to take it as given that they get Googled. And maybe they do.
Wise and worldly readers, have you found or seen a way to square the increasingly strict rules about interview questions with the ubiquity of information on the web?