Spotlight on ‘Googling’

The search engine Google is now so popular, it has become a verb all of its own. According to market research company Hitwise, seven in 10 people looking for something online now ‘Google’ it.

Employers and recruiters are also catching on to the trend, using Google to unearth background information on candidates.


According to John Wakeford, managing director at headhunter Hitchenor Wakeford, it is an increasingly common tactic, especially when hiring for high-profile roles.

“Company websites are one of the first places that come up [in a search] but also written communications that are in the public domain, newspaper articles, and personal blogs,” says Wakeford.

“It is rare to uncover something truly sinister, but I have encountered people who claim on their CV to have made a great success of a public project – but it has been reported in the local press as a major disaster.”

However, Wakeford stresses that a trawl of the internet should not be the only technique used to check that a potential employee is who they say they are.

Sources of information

Internet searches, he says, should be used alongside more targeted techniques such as qualification and Criminal Records Bureau checks, references, interviews, psychometric testing, and assessment centres.

“Only using Google to find information on a candidate is like using sledgehammer to crack a nut,” he says.

It is also a tool that must be used with care, warns Mark Higgins, head of employment at law firm Betesh Fox.

He says: “While employers are perfectly within their rights to use anything in the public domain when investigating job candidates, they must ensure they don’t use this information to discriminate against a person applying for the job.”

Avoid assumptions

Employers must not make assumptions based on any online information and if anything derogatory is written on the web, they should give the candidate the right to reply. After all, it could be the slanderous rantings of an ex-wife, husband or business partner.

“It’s also important to make sure that the person you are reading about on the internet is your candidate – not just someone with the same name,” says Higgins.

It is for this reason that Helen Kalyan, HR manager at Novotel London West, stays away from the internet when conducting background checks.

“I wouldn’t trust it. I’ve seen what has been written about me and it’s not all accurate,” she says.

And while Novotel carries out reference and qualification checks, Kalyan says that the company puts more emphasis on the applicants’ experience and attitude in interviews than their paper credentials.

So even if the company discovers a minor untruth, it may not necessarily spell doom for the candidate.

“Individuals inevitably exaggerate on their CVs. This is something all HR professionals are aware of and if an applicant is found out, then they risk losing credibility,” says Kalyan.

“However, if they show the right willing, are personable and we feel they will add to our team dynamics, then a C grade becoming a B grade does not give us a great deal of concern.”

Checking up on candidates checklist

  • Don’t use Google as your only means of getting background information. Use Criminal Records Bureau checks, references and psychometrics where necessary.

  • Check that the person you have ‘Googled’ is the person you’re recruiting, not just someone with the same name.

  • Look for blogs – similar to online diaries – to uncover facts about the person’s hobbies and outside interests.

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