By Nancy Mann Jackson
Once upon a time, a potential employer looked at your resume to find the references you'd hand-picked to represent you, picked up the phone, and usually got the glowing reviews you knew you could expect. (That's why you picked those references, right?) Now, in the days of LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, a hiring manager has a number of additional tools at his or her disposal to check you out before hiring you.
No longer does a hiring manager have to contact only the references you suggest. He or she may search LinkedIn to find someone who worked in your department at your former employer, and contact him or her for information. He or she may peruse your Facebook or Twitter posts to learn more about you – and contact those with whom you interact with online to develop a broader reference check.
According to Jeff Shane at Allison & Taylor, a professional reference checking company, job seekers should take steps to ensure that their social media data isn't used against them. Here are his four tips:
1. Take the time to research yourself online prior to beginning your interview process. (One example: "Google" yourself.) The odds are very high that your application, resume and credentials will be reviewed by prospective employers for inaccuracies – better that you identify them first, if they exist.
2. Consider expanding your reference list to prospective employers beyond simply an HR contact or supervisor. Associates like a supportive second-level supervisor or a matrix manager(s) can be key advocates on your behalf and might be more supportive than traditional references like immediate supervisors.
3. Find out what your references will say about you prior to beginning the interview process. Use a third-party reference verification firm to find out what references at your most recent places of employment (in particular) will actually say about you. Increasing the scope of your reference search (to second-level supervisors, etc.) may identify additional favorable references in senior positions whose names you may wish to invoke during the interview process.
4. Know your rights. Be aware that employers are legally prohibited from using certain social media data they may discover about you during the hiring process, (e.g. data pertaining to your race, religion, age, sex, sexual preference, etc.). Employers open themselves up to lawsuits if they base their hiring decisions on such discriminatory information.