Friday, January 25, 2013

Googling job candidates: do you? should you?

Dean Dad/Matt Reed has a post up about googling job candidates, and while I don't always agree with his take on things (tenure, for example), he's right about this one.

Candidates may assume that we're googling them, but are we? In searches I've served in or chaired, the answer is no, for both ethical and practical reasons:

  • Practical: If the average search in English draws from 100-400 applicants (with some searches, I've heard, drawing 700+ applicants), who has the time? Even if you were to google only the top 50 or so, that's still a lot of computer time.
  • Ethical and practical: Don't we already have a lot of data (or "data points," if you want to be fashionable) about the candidates? CV, cover letter, rec letters, teaching/research statements, and writing samples--don't these provide a fairer picture than a random google search?
  • Ethical: What if the candidate has a common name and the first thing that comes up is a mug shot . . . of someone with the same name? Or if the name-alike or the candidate has really unsavory views on something?  What if s/he went through a phase of huge Goth disaffection with The System and posted said disaffection over the internet--should that taint your view of him/her?
  • Ethical: Conversely, if the candidate has assiduously promoted himself/herself through Pinterest/Facebook/Twitter/Storify/blogs and so on, having a big ego and a good sense of public relations doesn't necessarily mean that the candidate is a better or more accomplished researcher than a less self-promoting candidate.  How could you separate these from the other data, once you knew about them? 
  • Ethical and practical: I can best sum this one up by saying (1) we want to be fair and (2) HR would have our heads on a pike if we made decisions this way. The whole point of job search procedures, which are very well defined, is to level the playing field.  It's hard enough to know how to deal ethically with additional information, such as supporting emails or phone calls received from those at other universities, without addressing google searches. 
  • Ethical and practical: What if the first thing that turns up is teacher evaluations from you-know-which site, for which "help yourself to vengeance" could be a motto? Could you refrain from reading them? 
One of the most satisfying parts of being a search chair, which is a hellacious amount of work, is having the power to run a fair and equitable search and make sure that everyone is given the same consideration. I don't think googling them accomplishes that, but is refusing to google just hopelessly outdated as a concept? Bardiac? Flavia? You've both posted recently about the job market; what do you say? 


Fretful Porpentine said...

What if the candidate has a common name and the first thing that comes up is a mug shot . . . of someone with the same name?

Worse yet, I have a friend who does NOT have a common name at all, but by some diabolical coincidence, there is a wannabe porn star out there who picked her name as a stage name and put up some explicit photos under this name. (Luckily this didn't happen until after my friend had already been hired, and it is obvious to anyone who knows her that the girl in the pictures is NOT her, but I can imagine how disastrous the results could be if a search committee member started Googling candidates before meeting them.)

undine said...

Fretful Porpentine, That's even more a nightmare than the mug shot scenario. Especially if a committee comes to the wannabe's site, they're likely to shut it down for fear of viruses before figuring out that the real person does not have a previous, uh, career.

Sisyphus said...

Ew, Fretful, that sounds horrible! This question is part of why I blog pseunonymously (another part is that it is so much more fun to invent alternate personas for oneself) ---- even if what I am saying is smart and interesting, having too large of an online presence can get a grumpy search committee to think that you spend too much valuable time on social media sites.

I do have an page, so that thee *is* a nice and professional presence around my name on the internet (totally common name here) and I have my picture posted, so that any nosy people could figure out my race and my gender. If it's really going to be important to them, I figure I'll let them know. Not much I can do to change it.

Plus, you can tell from my academia picture that I am not the lawyer in Los Angeles or the weird woman in Chicago who seemed to be suing everybody!

I have no clue if search committees look up the site ---- most of my hits appear to be undergrads looking for free essay sites. :)

jo(e) said...

No official policy where I work, but to be honest, I don't think anyone has time to google candidates. We already have enough paperwork to go through for each one ....

undine said...

Sisyphus, you have some interesting internet doppelgangers! I think is good for exactly the kinds of things you're talking about: if someone did google you and find you there, it'd be clear who you were.

jo(e)--That's my take on it, too: with the loads of paperwork that a search already requires--and all of it added onto our regular work--who would have the time to google people, even if it were ethical to do so?

Professor Zero said...

Googling people is passé. I mean: I do not think search committees do it, for all the reasons already stated, but it is also passé.

It is fine if you are looking for someone. But if you already know where they are ... it is boring to Google them. Everyone is on the Internet now, practically, and ... bleah, Googling them is boring.

Anonymous said...

It's easier to google to find a cv than to dig through my email to find it...

undine said...

Professor Z, I'd like to think so, but I keep reading (at the Chronicle) about googling being done. Anyway, how would you theoretically find someone if not by Google? I have been driven mad by going to someone's institution and trying to drill down through the layers of institutional nonsense before I actually find information about them. (And why is it that no two institutions call "departments" by the same name?) Googling is faster.

nicoleandmaggie--if it's a search, we have all the info in a secure online folder, so I don't have to look through email. But it's true--google would be faster, especially since I've never seen an email search feature (Outlook, Entourage, Mail, or whatever) that could find the broad side of a barn door.

Professor Zero said...

Everything in Chronicle is old news. You are more modern than it is.

Look for someone, I mean like a long lost relative. Someone whose location you do not know.

If it is a job candidate we have their materials, and we know where they are located already.

Anonymous said...

Your online folder system must be a lot less whatchamacallet than ours is... we have a strange series of paths to go through, many of which have the same folder names at different levels, although some are locked to us and others are not. (Do we do academics first or operations first?) Plus only committee members have access to the folders and you have to enter in a password even if you're on the committee (although it is always the same password every year for every search). Yes, I work at a state school.

Flavia said...

Only just catching up on my blog-reading now--apologies!

The only candidates I've Googled as a member of a hiring committee are those whose docs look. . . shady. For example, if someone lists a ton of publications in the last year, none of them yet indexed by the MLA, and I want to see if they were legit. Or if s/he lists presses/journals I've never heard of, that seem dubious. Or if s/he doesn't identify his/her position at his/her current employer. In those cases, I'm suspicious that something's up.

But if the application materials are straightforward, there's no need or time.

When I haven't been on the hiring committee, I've often Googled our finalists--since the faculty are usually just emailed their names (and the dates of their upcoming visits), some days before their files are available for general review. So I Google solely to turn up the basic info, or possibly a C.V. or faculty profile. I'm not looking for anything personal.

undine said...

Flavia, thanks for responding. Those seem like good uses of Google. It's not a primary means of identification but a secondary one that confirms (or disproves) what you've already thought.