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Keeping tabs on social networks

By Billy O'Keefe

By Amanda Dolasinski
Three seconds is all the time it takes for a recruiter to search the deep Web and uncover drunken frat party photos and blog posts cursing out professors.
With the help of a powerful online people finder, human resource departments are finding publicly available information not boasted about on resumes. Spokeo is a Web site more recruiters are relying on to get the inside scoop on potential employees — and all they need is an e-mail address.
After getting a head’s up from a former employee at a Kentucky television station, 2009 Bowling Green State University graduate Matt Horn set restrictive privacy limits on his Facebook profile. The broadcasting grad said he was an intern with the station in college when a then-employee told him to clean up his profile before his interview.
Horn was a step ahead, though. He’d already heard that human resource executives scour social networking Web sites, so he made sure to never post any questionable material online.
“I made all of my pictures private except my profile pictures, which are professional anyway,” Horn said. “I’ve gone through all of my comments and stuff that could be viewed as inappropriate, and I deleted all of them.”
The latest research, completed in 2007, shows about 35 percent of recruiters perform Google searches to review potential employees. About 34 percent of the time that search leads to a decision not to hire the candidate.
The Ponemon Institute at ponemon.org, a Michigan-based research center that administers independent surveys regarding privacy issues, conducted the survey to find out how many human resource executives search the Web to get candid information about potential hires. The research looked at public and private corporations and government agencies, among others, and determined that about 23 percent of recruiters scanned social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace. About 21 percent of the time, employers read through blog posts.
Sue Murphy, association manager of the National Human Resources Association, said she predicts there will soon be laws with guidelines for employers to follow when performing interest searches.
She said employers need to be careful with searches and how they use that information.
“If I see a recent college grad hanging upside down drinking out of a keg, I can’t discriminate because it has nothing to do with on-the-job duties,” she said.
Murphy warned employers about understanding the legality of conducting a search and remaining objective. Her advice is to interview first and then get permission to do a background check.
Murphy also teaches part time at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H., and she gives her students tips about preparing for an interview. They include cleaning up their Web sites and using different e-mail addresses for personal and professional information.
The powerful people finder, Spokeo at spokeo.com, actually started out as a social network aggregation system.
In 2005, four roommates from Stanford University created it so users could simplify their digital lifestyles. The foursome realized Internet users tend to claim their e-mail address as a common identifier. When all the sites were linked, they were uncovering massive amounts of information quickly.
“We realized we created something very powerful,” co-creator Harrison Tang said.
More than 1 million users log into Spokeo every month to search more than 40 social networking Web sites, Tang said. It takes as little as three seconds to yield results. All an employer needs is an e-mail address, which most candidates include on their resumes.
Tang said Spokeo will find any publicly posted information, including pictures, videos and blog posts. It cannot, however, break through privacy filters.
“(Spokeo) can find it more than any other search engine because it searches the deep Web, which Google doesn’t,” Tang said. “Google does a poor job searching for people. We’re trying to improve that.”
The Web site launched about three years ago and has been growing since. Tang said he just added a section for law enforcement professionals and would eventually like to throw in another section to search companies.
Horn maintains profiles on Facebook and Twitter and said he understands why recruiters would want to check those accounts out before an interview.
“It’s the simple fact that if you’re going into broadcasting, you have to keep a good public appearance,” he said. “I think if you’re going to get a job, you have to represent the company.”