There has been much discussion about the use of social networking for candidate background checks.  I have always been in favor of allowing companies to search through anything posted online – it is in the public domain.

However, this German law does provide a bit more detail:

For example, employers will still be allowed to run a search on the Web on their applicants, de Maiziere said. Anything out in public is fair game, as are postings on networks specifically created for business contacts, such as LinkedIn.

In contrast, it will be illegal to become a Facebook friend with an applicant in order to check out private details, he said, adding that some people seem to be indiscriminate about whom they accept as a friend.

Ok, the friend piece does seem a bit underhanded, but the next line from the article is prescient:

“If an employer turns down an application with another reasoning it might be difficult to prove” that the negative answer was based on the Facebook postings, de Maiziere said.

I believe the lawsuits that would flow from this restrictive law would be frequent.  What if the candidate puts a friend request or LinkedIn request to the hiring manager?  Will there be a case from a rejected candidate even if there isn’t a social network connection?  What about Twitter?  Perhaps the candidate has been a bit rough in their Tweet language or posted links to some unflattering images?

At the end of the day, it may be that hiring managers and HR have to avoid social network research all together.

At least in Germany…for now.

I received a PR email notifying me of a 3-part series starting tonight on Nightly Business Report. Here are the details:

“Social Networking”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Similar to the introduction of TV in the 1950’s, social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are rapidly becoming a core component of many Americans’ daily lives.  But where businesses could easily impact the American consumer through TV advertisements, the road map for marketing through social networking is a bit more complex. The rules are certainly different, but as NBR’s Scott Gurvey finds out: the rewards may be even greater.

Tuesday 1/26: Pt. 1 – In part 1, NBR reveals some of the basic ground rules for companies participating in the world of social networking.

Wednesday 1/27: Pt. 2 – Businesses large and small use social networking in different ways.  In part 2, NBR digs deeper into the unwritten rules of social networking by examining recent campaigns from Pepsi and Fetch Pet Care.

Thursday 1/28: Pt. 3 – In part 3, NBR examines the multiplier effect of social networking along with some helpful advice on dealing with consumer complaints.

I have the DVR set and may I suggest you do the same?  Perhaps this short series will change my perspective on Twitter.

The Herman Trend Alert’s topic this week is the future of social networking.  An excerpt for you (my bolding):

“Social networking is in its infancy”, says David Nour, Relationship Economics CEO and Web 2.0 guru. “We’re on the upward swing of the hype cycle”. Lots of people are discovering the power of Social Networking and investing their time and energy to make it work for them.

“The real power and promise of Social Networking is a mass collaboration platform, accelerating one’s ability to get things done”, adds Nour. Enlightened individuals are shifting from “not invented here” to “invented everywhere.” It gives us the opportunity to extend our reach beyond any geographic, functional roles, or even industry sectors to learn and grow from others.

That bolded point is an excellent one, is it not?  I have found myself conversing with people from industries I would never have expected.  That is one truth about sales – the fundamentals of it are consistent across industries.  You wouldn’t suspect that truth by looking at sales employment ads which is disappointing.

Sales always comes down to prospecting, qualifying and closing.  The challenges of this work is surprisingly consistent in product sales, service sales, distribution sales, OEM sales…the fundamentals are the same.  This fact is why it is important to measure a sales candidate’s skills and talents with as much, or more, weight than their previous experience.

A relatively new aspect of sales hiring will be an understanding of a candidate’s network.  More sales are moving to this channel and candidates who bring an expansive social network will have an inherent leg up on less-connected candidates.

This is a new trend, I think:

As unemployment numbers hit historic highs, “pink slip” parties are popping up in big cities around the country. Hundreds of axed employees are going to happy hour meet-and-greets, where one can enjoy a drink and discuss career prospects with eager recruiters.

People are finding creative ways to stand out above the pack. In order to get a job in this economy, people have to get out there. And while there are no guarantees of gaining anything more than good conversations and a few contacts, some pink slip attendees have had success in finding new employment. Pink slip parties offer those on the prowl for jobs a chance to share information among themselves.

“If you take your network and compare it to the network of a total group, you get access to more people – if you can help each other, it’s a win for everyone,” said John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Pink slip parties are just one extension of social networking.

That is from the Career News newsletter.  Quite the creative idea as long as the parties include the “eager recruiters.”

Let me state my position – I believe employers should research all sites when considering a candidate for hire.  That includes social-networking sites.  I know there are arguments for both sides of this new debate and I am not completely sold on my position.  However, it appears that the trend among hiring managers is to use these sites in their hiring process:

The study, reported by Reuters, found that out of 3,169 hiring managers, 22 percent of them (about 698 managers) used social networking sites to find out information regarding potential candidates. This is up from 11 percent, or 349 managers, since 2006.

Even though 22 percent may not seem like a huge number now, one can only expect that number to continue to rise. The study revealed that 9 percent surveyed were currently not using social networking sites for screening purposes but plan to in the future.

The web is a public domain so I am of the opinion anything you put up there can or will be read by someone else.  I think it is foolhardy to think otherwise.

If you read the rest of the article, you will find 4 suggestions for maintaining your privacy on these sites.

I don’t think this is a big surprise, but in-person networking is the most important.  From the Career News newsletter (sorry, no link):

While the execs expected the importance of online networking to grow from 24% now to 38% in two years’ time, that’s still less important than developing personal contacts (81%), contacting recruiters (63%) or using job boards (51%). Some 93% of the senior executives surveyed said putting time into developing their ‘personal brand’ was a wise career move. While some three-quarters said this was best done offline, two-thirds said they do use social networking sites to look good.

Commenting on the findings, Carol Rosati, director at Harvey Nash, said: “While online networking does not replace human interaction, it does provide candidates with an additional set of resources to create and maintain a personal brand and complement the profile they build through ‘real world’ networking.” The top social networking sites for senior execs looking for career progression were LinkedIn (57%), Plaxo (16%), and Facebook took just 6% of the vote (ed.-my emphasis).

In a way, it seems that the gist of this survey misses the point of social network sites.  They are a tool to improved networking, but I don’t think people view them as a replacement to in-person or phone call networking.  I could be wrong here as I suspect there are people who just connect with others just for the sake of connecting.  Maybe that should be called social connecting as opposed to networking?

Bill Gates is on LinkedIn…are you?  I’m behind the curve on the social networking side, but I do find LinkedIn to be a fascinating tool.  We are just starting to expand our sourcing activities into the LinkedIn space and it is already paying dividends.

We are starting to receive 2nd and 3rd degree of separation contacts from job seekers, business owners and old classmates.  It it almost like drawing a “Chance” card in monopoly – you’re not quite sure who is contacting you, but it always draws your attention.

I’m still a LinkedIn neophyte, but I like the development they are pursuing.  From Online Media Daily comes this story – LinkedIn Opens ‘Back End’ To BusinessWeek, Other Web Publishers:

LINKEDIN, A SOCIAL NETWORK TARGETING business professionals, is living up to its name. It’s opening its “back end” to Web publishers that want to bring the network’s functions to their sites. The first publisher to get the LinkedIn invitation, BusinessWeek, wants to use its networking function to make BW’s Web site a place where business types can connect and maybe even make deals–in other words, a place to do business, rather than just read about it.

In one feature, LinkedIn will create links in the text of BusinessWeek editorial content for the proper names of businesses and people. By mousing over the links, the reader can determine how they are connected to the individual or entity in question, including how many of their own contacts are connected.

I often tell candidates that I can’t imagine being in sales and not using LinkedIn.

Online Media Daily has a news brief regarding the fastest growing social networking sites. 

AMONG TOP SOCIAL NETWORKS, LINKED-IN was the fastest-growing over the last year, according to October ratings released Wednesday by Nielsen Online.

The site geared toward professional users drew 4.9 million visitors last month, up from 1.7 million a year ago.

Other fast-growing social networks included kiddie site Club Penguin, up 157% to 3.8 million users, and Facebook, more than doubling its audience to 19.5 million in the last year. MySpace remained the top social network with 58.8 million users, up 19% from 2006.

LinkedIn was the fastest growing, but it seems like Facebook is the site to watch.  Whichever way it plays out, I would recommend putting your information on both sites.

There is a fine line that has yet to be determined when it comes to blogs, social networking and other web 2.0 tools.  Case in point, this post from Podcasting News:

Last year, she was dismissed from the student teaching program at a nearby high school and denied her teaching credential after the school staff came across her photograph on her MySpace profile. She filed a lawsuit in April this year in federal court in Philadelphia contending that her rights to free expression under the First Amendment had been violated. No trial date has been set.

Her photo, preserved at the “Wired Campus” blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, turns out to be surprisingly innocuous. In a head shot snapped at a costume party, Ms. Snyder, with a pirate’s hat perched atop her head, sips from a large plastic cup whose contents cannot be seen. When posting the photo, she fatefully captioned her self-portrait “drunken pirate,” though whether she was serious can’t be determined by looking at the photo.

If you follow the link you can see the picture which is best described as innocuous.  It is hard to imagine she lost her job over this photo, but she was a teacher which adds a twist.  I’m still undecided on which way to view the use of social networking sites in background verifications.