Hiring and The Google Background Check

Stephen Wynkoop posted an interesting question regarding social networks last week on sswug.org.  Basically he is curious if people are using social networking sites to help make hiring decisions.  Here is what he had to say ...

I had an interesting question posed today.  The gist of it was that someone was interviewing to fill a DBA position in their company.  One of the interviewees had been doing DBA work for quite some time and seemed like an interesting candidate. 

The issue was that searching for this person online resulted in... nothing.  Nothing at all.  No social sites, no posts, no nothing.  Now, it's possible that it was just necessary to keep searching, but it brought up an intriguing question.  If you cannot find someone online - someone that has been working with computers - is this an issue?  If you couldn't find a single post, a single message, a single social networking site mention... would it begin to color your impression of this candidate?


I also noticed from Stephen's two follow up posts that many people were not comfortable with potential employer's googleing to find out more information about them.  I found that interesting too.  When I have a question about something (or someone), I ask google.  Is this so different?

Here are some of the email response's Stephen received (go to his post to read the rest of them):

All I can say is that I hope not too much emphasis is placed on this.  I've been working with computers for roughly 30 years; my first coding was in Fortran - using punch cards - as an engineering student in 1977.  Being somewhat of a Luddite, I have no use for social networking sites like myspace - I hardly even care about cellphones.  Googling my name returns some results but nothing about me specifically - does that mean I don't exist? - Randall

Personally, I would assume that the individual has done a fantastic job of making sure his or her personal information is protected.  To me this would indicate that the candidate has a phenomenal grasp on computer/network security.  I would be more inclined to hire such a person than someone who has personal data floating around where anyone can find it. - Ben

Surely that is unethical and illegal? Most countries would have laws \ regulations against that.  No society I know of would allow that, it goes against the right to privacy and has no bearing on his ability and possible subsequent appointment.  Not a negative comment meant from my side, but from a reputable organisation like yours I find that rather strange. Social networking sites are really for youngsters who are just trying to be 'hip' and normally are bored persons with no self esteem, so does it seem appropriate to hire someone who uses such sites? - Larry


Don't be Passive

As I read the comments, I was curious about why these emailers appear to be defensive about employer's googling them.  Are they really hiding something and nervous Google might turn it up?  Do they really think its an invasion of privacy?  Or are they like Randall and feel guilty because there is nothing to find, but just don't want to admit it?  I don't know these people, but I can't help but guess there is some part of them that is like Randall - passive Internet users that don't want people to know that Google can't find a single relationship between them and the technology they claim to be an expert in.

Which raises some interesting questions ...

  • Would you hire a developer with zero on-line presence?
  • Would you work for a dev manager/tech lead/architect with zero on-line presence?    
  • Do agree with the sswug emailers?
  • Do you make hiring decisions?  If so, do you do a 'google background check'?
  • Should all developers have an on-line presence?


That's it.  Enjoy!


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Posted by: Robert on October 20, 2008 09:04 PM

Interesting topic. Here are my 2 cents.
My first name and last name are quite common and I often get mistaken for others on the web. Hence, I have an issue with potential employers using google and the like to find out more about me. They most likely are going to look at incorrect information.
Also,if you are opinionated and like to post your political/religious/sexual etc. views, some potential employers could use that as a deciding factor.
Should one sacrifice the right to free speech in fear of offending a potential employer?

I've had a blog for years now (at least 2004), and now blog on a fairly popular site (elegantcode.com). I also help lead two user groups (netdug.com, bsdg.org). So I guess I have some perspective on this.

Would I hire a developer with zero on-line presence?
Yes, but I like seeing online questions and answers. No one can know everything, and often the fastest way to find some is to ask. I like it when people ask questions. I also like it when people care enough about something to share it.

Would I work for someone with zero on-line presence?
Yes, I have before, and I will again.

Do I agree with the sswug emailers?
No. In all my years of blogging, my blog has paid for itself over and over again. Both in jobs I've gotten directly because of it -- and job that I didn't get (and didn't want) because of it. Nice thing is, it gives other people a quick insight to how I work and if I'd be a good fit for their team. My blog is an extension of my social network, which also includes usergroups, but few social networking sites.

Should all developers have an on-line presence?
Experience tells me that developers change jobs every 3 years. Also, most jobs are found through word of mouth and your circle of friends. The new "economic crisis" has not left developers out, it pays to expand who you know, and who knows about you. Let people know you are out there, that you care about what you do, that you know what you are doing, and where you are trying to go.

Personally I look at it like this: I blog for myself, my family, and to leave my profession a better place than where I left it.

Posted by: bozzo on October 20, 2008 09:11 PM

when you go for an interview you are a salesperson selling a product: yourself. tech jobs are competitive, how are you going to differentiate yourself from all the other salespeople? here's one way - invest your own time into keeping up to date, foster your love of technology.

and how are you going to prove to a prospective employer you've done this? get your out-of-hours research onto a blog, sit some exams.. don't like someone googling your name, don't like doing 'work' in your own time? well - come up with another way to compete at job interviews, or consider another industry..

Posted by: Patrick on October 20, 2008 09:22 PM

I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this issue. While I do not think there's anything morally/ethically wrong with searching the internet for information about a job candidate, I also do not think that a person's internet presence (or lack thereof) is necessarily an accurate barometer of his/her talent as a developer.

If there's anything to be found that would disqualify the candidate's eligibility, I think that information would need to be discovered during the background check phase (a formal process for which Google is not an acceptable substitute).

I think it would be unprofessional to ask a candidate any questions during an interview pertaining to things you found out about them online beforehand.

I think if I felt the need to "Google" someone after an interview, then that person probably didn't impress me enough to green light his/her hire anyway.

As a side note, I also tend to question the reasoning of people who react so defensively about things like this.

Posted by: John doe on October 20, 2008 10:17 PM

I know of somebody who used this to his favour. He setup a website with technical articles he copied from the web as his old blog posts and then quietly led the employer to it by having hisname@hisnameasptips.net or something on the header of each page. On his second interview they mentioned they had looked at the site and thought it was great. This was a very large coporation and as soon as he got home he put up a page saying we are moving web servers be back soon. He got the job. He never said to them to go to the website and they never asked about the articles. He still works there and after only 2 year is now the dev manager.

If I can not find you online, you are not getting hired. Too many people say "they have the experience" but fall short. If they do not have anything online to prove it then I am assuming it is BS. After I find the person online it is easy to tell if they are qualified for the position or stretching their skill set. It's a web-eat-web world.

Posted by: Nitin on October 21, 2008 02:13 AM

Hi Matt,
i feel being a good developer doesn't necessarily mean one should be socially very active too.
seems not too prudent to make ur hiring decisions purely on a "google search"
cheers :-)

I would never count online presence in hiring or recruting process. But I would consider online community participation a plus, a big plus. Now that I am talking about software field. But also this is applicable to other fields.
For me, and after a while, I think expressing my personality and activities through professional and personal blog would save or confirm some questions during interviews. Such what is your nigative or positive points?! You might speak about that in one blog post, or list them in your profile. It can be of assistance for you if you wished that.
But as employer, if you didn't fine a record for me online then this is as good as not finding a record for me on CIA as a terrorist.
I don't think good organizations would relay on that.
Social networks are great, but should never considered on hiring decisions.

Awesome comments. Good stuff ...

@Robert -
You make some good points. I used to work with a guy who had a 30 second clip on his myspace page of him shooting a semi-automatic gun at a range. He was a nice guy, a good team member, and a great developer, and he also enjoyed collecting and firing guns as a hobby. But if you were googling his name you might get the wrong impression of him. Ideally your hobbies shouldn’t hold you back from getting a job …

So let me ask a new question. If you are the type of person that does a google check on people as part of the interview process, would seeing this clip effect your hiring decision. If 2 candidates were neck and neck would this be a potential tie-breaker?

@Chris -
Very well put – especially that last statement. I started blogging ~18 months ago, but before then I was mostly a passive internet user. I would read blogs, newgroups and forums, but I never participated. After a while I started feeling a bit guilty – where exactly is my contribution?

@John Doe -
What a slime ball!

Posted by: Ryan on October 21, 2008 06:49 AM

Some people are bloggers and others aren't. Get over it. Good developers are a subset of both groups. Just because you may be a good developer and a blogger doesn't mean the two are in any way causative or even correlated. The whole point of this is that hiring managers wish they knew every little detail about every prospective hire because it would make their job easier. And I wish I had a pony.

@Ryan -
Very interesting comment. You write with the same defensive tone as the sswug emailers.

Blog, don’t blog, whatever – its up to you. But I think at some point you have to assume that hiring managers are googling your name as part of the pre-interview process. And if you aren’t OK with them finding nothing you better start doing something about it.

Posted by: Robert on October 21, 2008 07:21 AM

@Matt -
"So let me ask a new question. If you are the type of person that does a google check on people as part of the interview process, would seeing this clip effect your hiring decision. If 2 candidates were neck and neck would this be a potential tie-breaker?"
I'd like to think that it would not. But I can imagine some cases where I'd probably have a hard time deciding.
At any rate, google is here to stay and nothing can (or should) be done about it.
On the other hand, I have to say that I do like the approach of LinkedIn where your "social" presence is limited to your professional life and one can control to some extent what is "visible" to the outside world. That's the first place I'd look to find supporting evidence of a candidate's resume.
So, to answer your question: IF I did google a candidate, AND I was positive I found the correct profile, I'd place more importance on what I find in LinkedIn than stuff that I find in MySpace.

As a web developer, I expect people to search my name on Google. And the real beauty of it - after spending quite some time as the number one search result for my name, I have been overthrown. By a g@y pr0n star no less. How's that for a kick in the groin? If I were involved in the hiring process, I would be more inclined to think badly of some one with a questionable online presence than some one with no online presence at all. I definitely Google potential managers before going to an interview because the environment and personality of co-workers is extremely important to me. Additionally it can lead to some insight that I can use during the interview that will prove I have done my homework.

Posted by: MakoCSH on October 21, 2008 08:17 AM

I have a pretty common name. If you google my name (using quotes) you get 14,000+ hits. Some of them are me, but they're buried underneath thousands of hits about authors, psychologists, judges, etc. that share my name. So hopefully people hiring me aren't using google as part of the hiring process. If so I'm screwed.

As others have said, I have a very common name and even though I'm very active on various social networking websites, my name doesn't even come up on the first 5-10 pages.

On the same subject though, I had an interviewer ask me to give him links to my HISTORY of questions/answers in the ASP.NET forums. He wanted to see what I have asked about in the past. I thought that was taking things a little too far.

Posted by: Davide on October 21, 2008 10:01 AM

Wouldn't you be at least a little worried that said employee was going to spend all their work time engaging all of those social networking sites during work hours?

Social networking can become an addiction with its users checking their spaces constantly, and I don't think that leads to the best work ethics.

Message board questions/replies and websites are a better measure, and one of the best ways to preent yourself is some form of online portfolio. It is one way you can separate yourself from the pack.

Posted by: Devin on October 21, 2008 10:39 AM

This is an interesting view on the whole online presence issue that I've never heard of before. I'm fresh out of college, and facebook started up during my freshman year, so I've been with it through all its changes, including when the issue of employers checking people's profiles began to surface.

All I've heard about for the past couple years in relation to this issue is that you need to watch what you post online because someone might find it. Nobody ever really brought up the point that it might actually help you if what someone finds shows your dedication to the industry.

Do I think that someone needs some sort of online presence to get hired though? My perspective may be different because I'm new to the working world, but I would say no. Personally, I have very little online presence that is relevant to my job. I have a personal blog and have participated in communities related to hobbies, but not so much technical stuff. I've been throwing around the idea of starting a technical blog, but I have other projects I want to finish first. Does that mean I'm a bad developer? Not necessarily. And I don't really care if the person I'm working for has an online presence either, as long as they are good at what they do.

A friend of mine also just made an interesting point: if the people hiring you can't figure out what they need to know by looking at your resume/cover letter and by performing the actual interview, then they aren't very good at their job. Now, it's true that people can hide stuff so this isn't all true, but it's still something to consider.

Posted by: lmf232s on October 21, 2008 12:52 PM

Do I care if someone Goggles my name in order to find any information about me? No
Do I care if I don’t get hired because Google returns 0 hits on my name? Yes

Goggling my real name will lead to nothing. This is not because I have not been active in blogs, forums, etc for the last 8 years but because I don't feel a need to use my real name. A personal preference I suppose.

I don’t feel a need to use Face book, MySpace, or any other social networking application. Everyone I need or want to remain in contact I do through the use of email or that thing we call a phone. I don’t have time to waste sitting in front of a computer looking at profiles of other people or leaving comments about your latest vacation. I rather spend my time learning new technology, watching football on the weekends, and most of all enjoying the company of my family and friends. And because of this, I will be overlooked for a job (BS!).

I agree with the post above that your resume and the interview should be enough to enable an employer to make an educated decision on whether or not I would be a good fit for the company. And if not, then either the right questions are not being asked or the wrong person is doing an interview.

Again, I don’t have an issue with an employer Goggling me but I do have an issue that I would be overlooked for a job because of a lack of web presence!

Posted by: UnMicD on October 21, 2008 02:16 PM

For me it's simple, you want to look me up online, fine. I would appreciate it if that part of the application process was disclosed and I had an opportunity to provide "online references". For example, I would like to have the opportunity to direct a potential employer to my contributions on CodeProject. It does create a certain complication where an individual can claim to be someone they aren't if only a username is presented, but lets be honest. A potential employer's going to Google me looking for what? My Facebook profile? There's nothing there to sway them either way, and the fact that I have a profile at all (or not) certainly shouldn't factor into a hiring decision. If you want to Google me before you hire me, fine. But if you want to see the part of my online presence that is actually relevant to you as an employer, you may just want to ask.

Nobody should be penalized for not coming up in a Google search, because you can't find equal footing there. One person comes up, and you find a public social-networking profile with a bunch "party photos", and another comes up with nothing. Who do you hire? What about the potential hire with an incredibly common name? Or the one that happens to share his/her name with a celebrity? There's no equity, there's no scale, and I think that makes it a bad basis for hiring decisions, even as a tiebreaker.

Posted by: Sreedhar Vankayala on October 21, 2008 03:17 PM

Hi, I use different email address and profile on different sites. I dont want too much spam.

I am working in Software since 1995. Initially I gave original name, email and more ... later I got so much Spam and I dont think that I have subscribed to them also.

So, I started using different profile (or name) and different email address than the one in Resume.

Is it an offense?



Posted by: Ryan on October 22, 2008 06:20 AM

Matt, in your post you posit that people who don't blog publicly secretly feel "guilty" and are "hiding something". It's impossible to take up a position counter to that faulty "nothing to hide" argument without being "defensive". The fact of the matter is that many people are not compelled to start a blog or have a public presence online. I think your filter for weeding out potential hires based on their online presence will work great... at filtering out people that don't have an online presence. If you're just looking for good employees though, then you might want to have other criteria.

Posted by: diego moreno on October 22, 2008 01:10 PM

Hi,i'm not a very active social network member but a short time ago i created my facebook and LinkedIn profile just "to try" them i guess .I think those are good tools to know a bit more about people but NOT "ultimate profile searching tools" for hiring people.I'm currently working as a web developer in my country(argentina) and if your goal is be seen or hired by multinational or foreign enterprises those are good resources to explore.Also been contacted in reference to online jobs you made or a tips you wrote somewhere talks good about the develeoper, at least that's my opinion

I personally feel that having a web presence with a technical blog might be the only way I could be considered for a developer position with any company than the one I am currently with. I am probably in a different situation than a lot of other people. I have a degree from a prestigious university in a field no where near web development. Luckily, when I found the passion I was working for a small company that really needed a developer for internal stuff and was willing to let me learn as I went. The problem is though, that without my blog I have little for a portfolio, a non public facing work website, no computer science degree and no development lead to even recommend me.

I want a prospective employer to see my blog and my progression as a self taught developer as it might be my only hope to get in the door. My blog address and the handle I use in the community would most definitely go on my resume if I were looking for a new job. I also hope that the contacts I have made in the online community might get my blog in front of a decision maker as well.

Luckily I was blessed with an uncommon last name.

Don't know if it would work and not sure I want to find out :)

Posted by: NotSaying on October 23, 2008 08:46 AM

I make a concentrated effort to limit my visibility on the web even though I spend a lot of time on it.

As a developer, I have a website that potential employers can view. I direct them to that site throughout the interview process plus it's prominently displayed at the top of my resume. I also am listed on LinkedIn but that is strictly professional.

If someone googles my name (which is fairly common), that's pretty much all they'll find out about me. Whenever I post to forums and such I do not use my real name or my "real" email address. Usually, I will use the same username, so if you like my posts on the asp.net forums and then head over to 4guysfromrolla's forums and see the same username you know what to expect but will not know who I am.

I also have hobby websites out there for my friends and I to use (poker league, auxiliary fantasy football website, various office pools, softball leagues) but none of that has anyone's real name on it b/c we dont have to worry about bosses finding us on them.

I was actually worried about a year or so ago when I was looking for a job b/c someone from my area with the same name (but different MI) was busted trying to sneak pot across the Canadian border. Just after I got hired (in Niagara Falls, where there's 3 bridges to Canada), one of my bosses' bosses actually made a joke about me being a smuggler. My boss then said I was lucky that the paper printed the guys MI b/c that's when they were sure it wasn't me.

Oh yeah, when I've hired people I always google them to see what comes up.

Posted by: StillNotSaying on October 24, 2008 08:49 AM


Anything you can do to make yourself stand out in the interview process is a plus. I wanted to get into web development (w/o any experience creating websites) so I started my job search out of college by creating a simple website one afternoon that had my resume and some code from my school projects on it. Every interview I went on I was offered a job, mainly b/c of my website (granted it was late 90's and online resumes weren't as common then).

@Devin's friend

You will interview with many people throughout your career that have no clue how to perform an interview. Also, a lot of the time (especially for big companies) you will interview with someone who has no clue about what you do just to get to the people who will really interview you.

Posted by: John on October 24, 2008 09:08 AM

Googling is prone to be as hit and miss as anything else I suppose. In fact, I'm sure this is correct because I googled "hiring" and the first result was a Wikipedia entry that confirmed my suspicions.

You might as well buy a jump-to-conclusions mat and use it to make your hiring decisions though. You'll risk losing some good ones (lots of employers will shy away from the gun guy). You'll also hire some that blog well and interview well but are bad for the team chemistry.

Just my 2 cents.


P.S. I usually sign my posts "John", but that's a common name and I'm trying to increase my online presence with something more distinctive. I also like the idea that if they don't find me, at least they'll be looking at a nice cut of meat. ;)

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Recent Comments

  • John wrote: Googling is prone to be as hit and miss as anything else I suppose. In fact, I'm sure this is correc...
  • StillNotSaying wrote: @Devin Anything you can do to make yourself stand out in the interview process is a plus. I wanted...
  • NotSaying wrote: I make a concentrated effort to limit my visibility on the web even though I spend a lot of time on ...
  • Bill Beckelman wrote: I personally feel that having a web presence with a technical blog might be the only way I could be ...
  • diego moreno wrote: Hi,i'm not a very active social network member but a short time ago i created my facebook and Linked...
  • Ryan wrote: Matt, in your post you posit that people who don't blog publicly secretly feel "guilty" and are "hid...
  • Sreedhar Vankayala wrote: Hi, I use different email address and profile on different sites. I dont want too much spam. I am...
  • UnMicD wrote: For me it's simple, you want to look me up online, fine. I would appreciate it if that part of the ...