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Online Reference Checking in Employment Decisions

Advances in technology and more sophisticated online search capabilities have increased the popularity of reference checking via the Internet. The practice will undoubtedly grow as more record holders create databases that employers can easily access.

Everyone knows about the practice of searching for a person’s name online to see what comes up. Social media offer other means of accessing information online. These include such services as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, all of which feature at least some public content about most users. Some employers also access blogs and personal websites. The message here: Proceed carefully.

Although this approach can reduce costs and sometimes yield faster results, you also must understand that much of the information on a candidate you discover can be either erroneous or irrelevant. A person’s digital footprint also can reveal facts that are illegal to consider in a hiring decision, and your company’s review of online information can raise privacy concerns. The same legal constraints that govern interviewing apply to reference checking.

Online reference checking should be viewed as a complement to, not a replacement for, traditional methods. A web search is no substitute for personal assessments of the work quality and professionalism of candidates that carefully selected individuals can offer. Inaccuracies exist in many online data records, and some forms of investigation require written permission from the applicant and are subject to other legal limitations.

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