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Vetting candidates online

Here's a new rule for job seekers and recruiters in the 21st century: What happens in Vegas gets broadcasted worldwide. That's what happened to a substitute judge awaiting a judicial appointment. The 34-year-old man wrote on his MySpace page that his interests included different ways he could physically abuse the prosecutors that appeared before him.

Once the posting surfaced in Las Vegas, court administrators questioned his ability to be impartial and deep-sixed his judicial career.

As more and more data about individuals become public, potential employers and recruiters are letting their fingers do the walking  over social networking sites, court records, blogs and media databases.

And many prospective employers are rejecting job seekers based on what they find. In fact, studies suggest that 25 to 65 percent of employers and recruiters have disqualified candidates based on online information they found about the candidates. One recruiter nixed a person who would have been the public face of a company after viewing his tattoos and piercings in online photos.

Lessons for job seekers

Clearly, there are major pitfalls for candidates. Few employers are going to look favorably on drug use, drinking, violent ramblings and sexual content. The lessons are equally straightforward. Delete information or photos that put you in a bad light. Don't bash current or past employers, and don't post proprietary information.

Also, use privacy settings to restrict access and consider blocking comments since you can't control what others say. Check regularly to ensure your information is accurate (and positive.) Remember, you won't be judged by a jury of your peers but by people who are assessing your intelligence, judgment and maturity.

Danger zones for employers

Employers must also use caution. Some of the information found online can't be used legally to make hiring decisions. Online info may include religious and political affiliations, marital and parental status, country of origin and membership in certain advocacy groups. None of these things can legally be used to assess (and possibly reject) a prospective employee and should not be raised in an interview.

Some information, however, can provide legitimate grounds for greater scrutiny. Candidates sometimes lie about their education, experience and criminal histories. One manager discovered a candidate on the local police Most Wanted list. Court filings of all kind, from bankruptcy filings to litigation, can also yield useful information.

Employers also use the information to make more subtle judgments, such as whether a person will mesh with the company culture.

The upside of online info

Of course, online information can also help job seekers stand out. For example, a candidate may have a history of leadership or volunteer service that doesn't appear on a resume. Travel, languages and even hobbies may be relevant to the position. Further, employers may be impressed by a candidate's technical and creative skills, evidenced by a great profile or Web site.

For now, candidates, employers and recruiters are advised to be cautious as they negotiate the online world. Be circumspect and remember that some things are better left unsaid.

- Cindy Somers is an owner of Spherion Staffing Services in Champaign. She can be reached at (217) 359-4488 or cindysomers@spherion.com.

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