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Facebook as a Reference Check? Be Wary.

Posted on: July 18th, 2008 by: Tom Groff

Social media are increasingly on companies’ radar screens, and rightfully so. Opportunities abound to connect with customers and understand what’s on their minds. You should be exploring the possibilities.

But what about this trend toward visiting social networking sites in reference checks?

On the surface, it might seem to be a good idea. Cultural fit is a critical factor in the success of a new hire, and a Facebook page may shed some light on whether someone would be compatible. Or so the thinking goes.

However, do the personal details, opinions, pictures and jovial nonsense you might find online about a job candidate really represent who that person is—let alone have any bearing on his or her job qualifications?

Say you’re considering hiring a recent college graduate, the kind of recruit you’ll need to replace retiring baby boomers. Then you find some drinking-party photos posted by the candidate. Pretty typical stuff for the demographic. Nevertheless, based on the photos, you decide that person isn’t company material.

You may have just discounted a talented, reliable worker. And you may also have put your company at risk of privacy and discrimination claims.

OK, maybe not privacy. It’s called social networking, after all. However, if there’s any way it might appear that you eliminated the candidate based on the way he or she looked (i.e., skin color) or what he or she believes as you learned online, then you’re on shaky legal ground.

Given the rising impact of online social networks, you’ll be reading a lot more in this space about social media issues and approaches. For now, however, with respect to reference checks on social networking sites: proceed with caution.

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