“I Googled a Candidate. Here’s Why.”

Google. A website, turned verb. The way we learn just about everything now (just Google it). A giant time-waster. Yet also, a treasure trove of information. 

As recruiters, hiring managers, and people professionals, we tend to rely on Google for solutions to our day-to-day activities. From finding out various tax intricacies for our businesses to researching new benefits options to building a candidate pipeline, Google is our friend, confidant, and lifeline at times. 

Google is also our skeleton in the closet. If you go down enough of a Google wormhole on someone, you’re bound to find something you don’t like. A burner account, a NSFW (unaware of this acronym? you know where to look it up) comment made on a social media site at an adolescent age, or, very often, off-color photos. Unfortunately, this is the reason we often Google — to find something we do not want to see. 

Google Gotchas

A lot of people in the hiring process use Google as an extra filter. They want to find any way to eliminate a candidate in the process, or find something to use against them in a late-round interview. It’s petty and doesn’t do anyone good, but some hiring managers love those “gotcha” moments that trip up candidates during interviews.

And then there are Googlers like myself. For me, Google provides another way to connect with a candidate on a certain level. Plenty of times, candidates will leave pieces of information off their resume (college activities, things they were featured in, musings). Sometimes, it’s for good reason, but other times, they think it might not be relevant. I’m not the most frequent Googler of candidates, but when I do this, I call myself a “positive Googler.”

Positive Googling

I was at a company where the hiring processes weren’t great (no matter what I built and how hard I tried). We ended up with great candidates, but it was the same type of homogenous candidates, over and over again. Box-checking hires are great in some respects, but there comes a point when you make enough of those hires and then groupthink ends up persisting. 

Now, I don’t try to attach myself to candidates. My role was to source the best ones, glean enough information from them, present the best three to five people to my hiring manager, and offer recommendations or further clarification if needed. But when I saw how one particular role was going, I had to take action.

This role wasn’t the most senior-level role. It wasn’t even a manager role. Rather, it was an entry-to-mid-level role that had some serious room for growth. Naturally, I thought that meant we had some wiggle room on the hire, too. 

The interview process ended up coming down to two candidates: the traditional, buttoned-up individual who said all the right things and knew the tenets of the industry, and the other candidate. Now, this other candidate didn’t have all the experience necessary. He wasn’t perfect, but the way he thought provided an opportunity for our company that I thought the other one did not.

The only problem? The hiring team was too attached to their box-checking biases.

I knew the No. 2 candidate was going to help us more. And yes, now my own bias was showing. But I was also tired of us hiring the same types of people over and over again. If we were going to change, like our CEO promised, we needed to find new blood, and with a junior-level role, we had room to work. 

What I found when I Googled him strongly bolstered the case for hiring him. I happened upon an industry blog that he wrote while in college that talked about where he saw the future of his field. I saw a blog post on a hackathon he participated in, featuring not only the idea that his team came up with but their thought process (I’m a sucker for human-centered design thinking). These were things that didn’t necessarily come up in the initial screening or the interview process (I was the only design thinker in my company). 

Admittedly, I took a risk. In my race to positive Google, I could have found things that I didn’t want to see but was forced to consider because I saw them. And if I saw them, I likely would’ve had to show the hiring manager, ultimately torpedoing my case. Luckily, I didn’t. 

What I did find, I shared with the hiring team. I identified the need for change in our industry and how this candidate could help. Ultimately, I was able to persuade my hiring managers that he was the best candidate, and he ended up working out well for the company.  

Not Standard Procedure

Let me be clear: I don’t often Google candidates. I think your hiring process should be stringent enough that you and your team glean enough information on a candidate from an initial screening, hiring-manager interview, panel interview, and an assessment. If it’s not, then you probably should be undergoing some interview training.

But there are always things that fall through the cracks. I exposed my own biases in advocating for a candidate, but I also did it because I was tired of the bias that my own hiring managers constantly showed. And I thought that hiring someone new would be the ticket to my company’s future success. 

With that, I say use Google with caution. It’s like a lot of things in life: Try not to do it too often, and when you do, make sure it’s worth the risk and that you know what you’re doing.

Adam Rosenfield is an HR pro focused on all things talent management, design thinking, diversity and inclusion, and how to put the “human” back in HR. After years of recruiting and doing employer brand work, his future wife prodded him into an HR career. But really, his interest in total rewards and talent acquisition came from following the intricate goings-on of his favorite Dallas sports teams as a young kid.

He’s involved in his local AHRMA and Hacking HR chapters, while always finding something new to collaborate on which to collaborate with fellow HR professionals to move the industry forward.

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