How To Legally Research An Interview Candidate

When you’re leafing through a pile of CVs, how far should you go to research your candidates and ascertain whether they’re worth interviewing? Should you look at their social accounts?

Getting a recruitment ad out there for new staff is only the first step in the recruitment process and if your advertisement is attractive enough, you’ll soon find yourself buried in CVs from potential candidates.

But now that you’ve had applications, how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? What are the dos and don’ts of researching your applicants, and how should you make sure you’re not breaking any laws?

Accuracy

Steven D. Levitt, economics professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of Freakonomics has suggested that more than 50 per cent of job applicants lie on their CVs, so it’s important to find out what’s true and whether the candidate’s job history and skills are accurate.

The UK Financial Services Authority states in its Training & Competence guidance, which we paraphrase below, that regulated firms should have:

  • Adequate procedures for taking into account knowledge and skills of potential recruits for the role.
  • Adequate procedures for obtaining sufficient information about previous activities and training.
  • Adequate procedures for ensuring that individuals have passed appropriate exams or have appropriate exemptions and adequacy of procedures for assessing competence of individuals for sales roles.

There are a number of ways you can find out this information, but it’s important to document the processes in case a candidate questions why their application hasn’t been taken further. It is also important to note that you are not allowed to research into an individual’s credit history, driving licence records or any other information that may fall under data protection laws.

Social Networks

However, it is not illegal to research into an applicant’s online social media profiles, but it is an area of the recruitment process that must be approached with caution.

Attorney Jason Shinn of E-Business Counsel, PLC told Business Insider: “I believe and recommend that employers should make the most of available technology and resources to find the best candidates for employment, which clearly includes social media related sources.”

In keeping with best practices, an employer or recruiter should pull together a set of guidelines, specifying which social networks can be vetted, who will carry out the research, and which records will be held by the company.

It is recommended that someone who will not be the final decision-maker researches into the candidate’s profiles and reports back only the information that is relevant to the application.

No to Facebook

A candidate’s Facebook profile could provide information that might inadvertently affect your decision, such as revealing them as pregnant, their age, a certain ethnic group or member of a religion. As it is against employment law and the Equality Act to let this cloud your judgement, so it may be best to steer clear from such a personal space.

Nonetheless, more open social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be essential tools to help you confirm the validity of some of the information presented on a candidate’s CV and find out a little more about them in a professional capacity.

Yes to LinkedIn

LinkedIn will give you detailed information about where they have worked and what their main responsibilities are, which could help you make a decision about whether to invite them in for interview.

Recommendations from both colleagues, managers and other people the applicant has worked with in the past can help give you a better impression of the person and you’ll also get an idea of the candidate’s strengths with key skills put forward by industry contacts.

However, it is also worth considering that candidates can also fake information on LinkedIn, although because it's in the public domain, any lies could be picked up by companies the applicant has claimed to work for.

Yes to Twitter

Twitter is a little more personal than LinkedIn but it can also provide you with information about the candidate’s personal views and interests. If they are tweeting about the industry, for example, it could boost their application, demonstrating they have knowledge of the wider issues in the trade.

But...

Be careful to avoid the pitfalls of knowing too much... FastCompany reported that there had already been cases of discrimination tied to candidates' political beliefs as expressed through social media.

Approaching Previous Employers

You are legally allowed to ask for a reference from the candidate’s previous employer after you have offered them the job. However, you must not approach the employer before you have appointed the candidate.

Making a current employer aware that the applicant is seeking a new job could have negative effects on the candidate’s job prospects in their current role and although it is not legal to do so, the employer could terminate the job seeker’s contract.

When approaching an employer for a reference, the old employer is only legally obliged to reveal the following information:

  • the employee’s job title
  • the employee's salary
  • when they were employed

They are permitted to also include details about workers’ performance and if they were sacked, but this is not a legal requirement.

Ask Industry Contacts

If you have contacts in the industry who have worked with the candidate, you may of course ask for a recommendation.

Nonetheless, be aware that the recommendation could cloud your judgement and may not give a fair representation of the applicant’s full work history. Depending on your relationship with the industry contact and their relationship with the candidate, they may change their attitude towards the applicant, which may not be a fair representation in terms of what you’re looking for. All of which compromises your ability to follow best practices for hiring.

Therefore, to ensure you get a fair representation of the candidate, produce a simple questionnaire for your contacts to answer, and keep a formal record of the conversation to relay to the applicant should they ask why they didn’t get through to the next stage.

Qualification Check

Many universities allow you to verify the applicant’s qualifications, by contacting the university directly, but the applicant must first give their permission for the recruiter to seek this information by signing a release form. The university will not disclose the information without this.

You will need to provide the candidate’s full name, date of birth, name of college (if there are multiple colleges at the university), dates of attendance and degree awarded.

Which Is The Best Way?

We've never known so much about our candidates' backgrounds as we do today, but whichever way you wish to research a candidate’s history, be prepared for conflicting reports.

There's no singularly reliable strategy, whether you ask your industry candidates, research on LinkedIn, or use a CV checker. The best way is to pursue a mixed strategy and document all every process to cover yourself in case the candidate questions why their application was unsuccessful.

Find public social network accounts (Twitter and LinkedIn), verify their credentials with industry contacts and references, reach out to former colleagues for recommendations and use all of these to create a profile of the candidate.

Going the extra mile to solidify this mixed strategy into a more formal process will ultimately be worthwhile at all stages of the hiring cycle. At the early stages this research helps you decide whether or not to invite the applicant for an interview, and in the later stages of the interview process could serve to help you make the best choice between your strongest candidates.