Put up your hand if you’ve ever Googled your potential boss or future employee before accepting a job?
Now, put up your hand if you later wished you had?
This year, I’ve heard disturbing stories from both sides – from an ex-employee who learned months later that their boss had been incarcerated for fraud run through the business, to a hiring manager who didn’t know until they saw their future employee’s name in the media that their whole career was faked.
In both cases, a quick Google search of their names and previous businesses came up with news reports detailing their misdeeds, out there for anyone to find – if they looked.
We’d all like to think that this type of research isn’t necessary - and in most cases, it isn’t. For the majority of the population, a Google search of their name will come up with a list of social media sites and perhaps a couple of media reports if they’ve been involved in something newsworthy.
We’d like to think too that we can smell something off, but often if you aren’t looking for it you wouldn’t assume it.
Global studies suggest that 77% of employers Google their future employees. When you hear of worrying stories like the two above, it’s easy to see why.
If you’re going to Google your future boss or employee, here’s how to do it ethically & professionally, and what to look for when you do.
Rule #1: Respect Their Boundaries
It’s a slippery slide from Googling someone’s name to scrolling a year deep through their Facebook or Instagram feed. As tempting as it can be, it’s best to stay away from their social media - do you really need to see photos of their Aunt’s dog’s wedding from three years ago? Social media feeds can quickly become personal beyond a level that many colleagues know each other on – respect their personal boundaries and allow them to reveal their personality and interests naturally through conversation. Let them show you those dog wedding photos in their own time.
LinkedIn is widely accepted as the only social media platform appropriate to use in the hiring process, but don’t forget that they’ll see you checking them out. Be prepared to explain this, preferably without using the word “stalking”.
Rule #2: Search Their Name and Business Only
It’s none of your business if they’re up to no good in their private lives – did that affect how Christian Grey ran his company? No. Search for their name and current or previous business to find any relevant articles and glean insights about them. This could go three ways: one, there’s only praise and love for their work (jackpot!); two, there’s little to nothing about them online (not a bad thing, most people will fall in this category); three, you find dirt (red lights flashing).
You definitely cannot search for their religion, political views, family background, sexual orientation, marital status or other personal information. Imagine you’re meeting at an event – stay away from taboo topics and keep it professional.
Rule #3: Know What To Look For
The main thing you want to look for when Googling a potential boss or employee – aside from verifying their identity – is any news stories about them, written by an objective source. Articles from objective sources, a.k.a. reporters, will give you a fair idea of any notable highs or lows of their career. Be wary of opinion-heavy articles from disgruntled former colleagues, PR professionals, or self-written praise (which is more common than you think, especially after negative press).
One more thing to look for: make sure the details you’re looking at match the person in question. When I’ve Googled my own name in the past, I’ve been surprised to find another young woman sharing my exact name, also in New Zealand, but living a very different life to me. Thankfully, my name-twin seems cool, but you wouldn’t want to mistake a candidate for a career criminal thanks to poor Google research.
Rule #4: Remain Professional
So you’ve found the praise or dirt, now what? It’s up to you to decide whether it’s appropriate to bring this up with the person in question. If you do, make sure it’s done tactfully and respectfully, so you don’t risk offending them.
If it’s praise, found through a fair and simple Google search, they may be flattered that you’ve taken the time to familiarize yourself with their previous successes. Flatter away!
However, if you stumble upon a serious infringement such as fraud, you may need to bring this up to offer a chance for them to explain it. Be aware of keeping your tone and phrasing friendly and open, so as not to prompt a defensive response, and try not to draw negative conclusions about the person before hearing their side of it.
What If You Find Nothing?
The majority of the population have a small digital footprint, unless they’re particularly newsworthy or prolific in their field. Chances are you’ll find nothing but the official company page and a few social profiles, in which case you can probably rest easy and trust that “no news is good news”.
Now go forth with your ethical Google searching, and get the professional scoop on your future boss or hire.