Jobseekers Doing Online Background Checks On Employers, Too

from the role-reversal dept

With the growing popularity of social-networking sites and the increasing propensity for people to post all sort of information about themselves publicly online, there have been plenty of stories about how it can come back to haunt jobseekers. But in an interesting reversal, some sites are Web-2.0-ing the old “bitch about your boss” idea to use similar tools to try to get some inside dirt on potential employers. One job-search site is relaunching with some social networking-like features where instead of connecting to make friends or get dates, jobseekers can get in touch with them to ask questions about their company. Of course, all this relies on employees actually caring enough to use the system, and giving honest information about their place of work, and perhaps their superiors. But with lots of employers monitoring employees’ computer use, it’s doubtful that too many workers would want to open themselves up to being directly contacted by strangers to talk openly about their employer — particularly when some companies are even firing or suing employees for talking bad about them online. Perhaps the real lesson here is that instead of worrying about what their employees might say on a job board, hiring managers should just keep their pictures of swingers parties and tales of humiliating employees out of their MySpace profiles. After all, if they’re doing Google background checks on applicants, the potential hires are probably looking them up, too.

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Comments on “Jobseekers Doing Online Background Checks On Employers, Too”

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Nathan Gilliatt (user link) says:

Google is just the start

Google is only one of several tools candidates should use when interviewing with a company. In 7 things to do before the job interview, I suggest other sources of information candidates can take advantage of. Hiring managers should be aware that candidates are researching both the company and the individuals they meet in the process.

TheMajor says:

Been There....Done That

I applied for a job with WebMD and they called to schedule an interview. In the days that followed I found some interesting forum chatter between guys/gals at the office I applied for and another remote WebMD office…So during the interview, I asked them about some of the things that I had read….they became very uncomfortable (nice change of pace) and ended the interview….Rumors Confirmed!

P T says:

Duns and Bradstreet

I actually pulled a D&B report and called a few of their vendors I had a relationship with, and asked if they paid their bills on time.

They did, and everything verified the wonderful claims they were making about their small company.

I made the jump and they were absolutely awesome.

And after mentioning it one day, they then realized why D&B started harassing them to update their information with D&B around the time I was interviewed. In fact, they’re still getting bothered to this day. 🙂

Sanguine Dream says:

Hold on there...

I personally dont like this anymore than employers searching for the dirt on potential employees online. While it would be somewhat difficult do bad mouth a company online the individual managers are just as vulnerable to mistaken names and lies as potential employees.

Perhaps this will teach them a lesson or two about snooping online. I’m just waiting for a someone to sue after they lose out on a job opportunity or a bunch of candidates suddenly ditch an emplyer because of misinformation.

Nathan Gilliatt (user link) says:

Re: Hold on there...

It’s not snooping (well, not necessarily), it’s due diligence. Joining a company is a big decision, and it’s only sensible to be informed before you make it. Yes, it’s possible to discover things you don’t really need (or maybe want) to know, but you can also find a lot of useful information that is relevant and accurate.

Besides, who says you’ll find dirt? You might find that you’re about to interview with a true leader in the industry, and that the company would be a great place to work. Google “employment brand” for more on what companies can do to shine.

Scott says:

Over negative reviews

A problem is who will sign up to be contacted. A similiar system exists for college students to find out what teachers to take/avoid. My wife was a professor who’s student reviews were always 99% stellar, but looking at the site, it looked like she was a teacher from hell. The problem is that the couple people that gave negative student reviews (usually because they weren’t really capable of handling college level work load) end up being the ones that write the reviews. It is very hard to get a true view of the balance of good/bad in a system like this.

I, for one says:

Ask don't dig

To answer Sanguine, Nathan and my own nagging double standards I think it’s important to make a distinction between the company and the individuals here.

While this diminishes in the limit of a small company, the bigger the organisation the more relevance this separation has.

The law treats a company as a “person”. Psychologists have taken this idea and studied the “personality” of a company. Offtopic, but basically the average comapany has the characteristics of a severely personality disordered narcissistic psychopath.

Given the awfully unethical behaviour and corresponding public disdain for so many companies on a range of single issues it’s hard to find any good company to work for, unless you are prepared to drop your moral standards and become comfortable that to some extent you are working for criminals. It’s also impossible to verify the hearsay and accusations levelled at companies on the internet. You may find you end up with a whole load of bogus info if you go digging for it.

My strategy is never to dig for dirt behind peoples backs, but to be direct, almost confrontational and go straight to the target I am after.

The good ones are the small startups, 10-50 people. To select those you need to know your technical onions, the questions should be strictly on target

“Why did you decide to use Apache server?”

“What is your conversion growth in the last year?”

“Who founded the company?”

“Who are the investors?”

“Do you plan to hire more people next year?”

You will get straight and sensible answers to all these if the company is legit, tight and run by genuine businessmen. That should be all you need to know in a small company because to some extent you have the opportunity to “make it what you want”.

A good sign is that that you can find nothing about them (as a company) on the internet except a few trade reports and adverisments. In other words, the company is still fresh, enthusiastic and going places.

When it comes to the BIG companies you can try the amusing but unsuccessful experiment I tried many years ago. I handed a question sheet to the interviewer each time and asked them to fill it out. It contained straight to the point questions like

“Has this company ever been involved in a legal dispute over patent rights. If so please give a summary”

“Does this company have any ties to, investments in or business relationships with companies manufacturing armaments or other defence related products?”

I got back exactly ZERO of those.

At the same time I was handed on average 10 sheets of intrusive, invasive personal questions from each company which they expected me to fill in.

Really that told me everything I needed to know about those companies.

Which is why I became a freelance contractor and consultant and have been a happy bunny ever since.

Which brings me to summarise what I said in the other post on “employers checking up on you”. If you have a question ASK. It never hurts to go right up to the face and state your question in plain honest and direct terms. You will get the truth (of a kind) If the question is embarrasing to them, or they choose not to answer, or they don’t give you the job because you asked it, then you win. You got what you needed to know either directly or indirectly.

If on the other hand your question is answered without hesitation, chances are they appreciate you asking it and think highly of you for your thoroughness in research and directness in communication.

Sanguine Dream says:


It’s not snooping (well, not necessarily), it’s due diligence. Joining a company is a big decision, and it’s only sensible to be informed before you make it. Yes, it’s possible to discover things you don’t really need (or maybe want) to know, but you can also find a lot of useful information that is relevant and accurate.

I should have been more clear about snooping vs. fact finding. Its one thing to go online to find out what a company does and see if it is the type of company that you want to join. Its quite another to go searching online when you have only the name of the manager that will interview you with the hopes of finding out his personal business.

Potential employers have an interview(s) and a resume/application with all they need about a candidate. And this includes the contact info of current and past emlpoyers and mutiple references. I don’t see how my facebook profile factors into wheather or not I’d make a good addition to the company.

Potential emplyees that want to research a company need to do just that, research the company, not the employees. If you think what you find on your interviewer’s myspace profile is gonna tell you all you need to know about the company you work for then you’re the one with the problem.

Nathan Gilliatt (user link) says:

Re: #8

Its quite another to go searching online when you have only the name of the manager that will interview you with the hopes of finding out his personal business.

Here’s where we need to clarify. Looking up people does not necessarily imply hoping to find personal business, let alone dirt. The usual result when looking up a person is, frankly, nothing. When researching someone in management, you tend to find press releases, interviews, professional bios from trade show appearances, articles… work-related stuff. That’s all fair game. Of course, if you find real dirt, that could be incredibly relevant to making a decision to work with that person.

Personal stuff pops up, too, sometimes, but it’s much more likely to be something that reflects favorably than some drunken photo on MySpace. I don’t think learning that someone was 16th in his age group in a 10K is a problem, although I wouldn’t plan to bring it up.

Companies check references. They also perform criminal background checks. Some even run credit checks. Candidates should do some due diligence, too.

I agree that Facebook and MySpace are generally irrelevant on both sides of the transaction, although I wonder how many working adults are even in those sites. There was a good discussion about the ethics of using the purely social networking sites in recruiting a couple of weeks ago. The consensus seemed to be that recruiters shouldn’t use them, but candidates should be aware that some recruiters will, anyway.

ebrke says:

Hiring Managers on MySpace?

” . . . hiring managers should just keep their pictures of swingers parties and tales of humiliating employees out of their MySpace profiles . . .”

Honestly, this is a total surprise to me–are there really people on MySpace who are ADULT??? Has arrested development become a communicable disease now?

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