Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Services for managing hiring and background checks develop; but the HR world needs to work on the "online reputation management" problem now!


ICIMS is a New Jersey company that provides talent management systems and software. The basic website is here. The underlying business concept is called “The ICIMS Talent Platform.” It has many components, pre-hire, post-hire, workforce planning, and “offboarding” (including outplacement).

Employment Background Investigations (EBI) is a company which, as its name suggests, provides background check services to employers. The company offers a Background Screening Management Center called MyEBI, with descriptive web link here.

Back in August 2006, ICims announced a partnership with Employment Background Investigations to allow users of ICIMS applicant tracking software to integrate background checks and applicant drug screening into their IRecruiter Applicant Tracking Solution (trademarked). The "Resume Miners" press release was here.

All of this is of interest because of the controversy brewing in the past three years over “online reputation management” and the tendency for many employers to do covert “background checks” with search engines, exposing them to the likelihood of misidentification, or from influence from hostile or possibly libelous posts made by others about an applicant. I could not see any evidence that either company specifically mentions this problem on its website, however iCIMS has said to media that it has definite feelings that something constructive should be done to address this problem in the HR world. This is an issue that ought to be addressed systematically by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

I would suggest that employers (at least “mainstream” employers) ought to state the following on their websites in sections where they make their job postings, in a conspicuous and transparent manner:

(1) State the employee blogging policy, broken down by job category as appropriate
(2) State to job applicants which online materials will be searched and looked at, and how they could affect hiring decisions.
(3) Allow applicants to submit relevant materials, including rebuttals to any libelous content, or any information (as, for example, about screennames or nicknames) that would prevent employers from finding the wrong person.

Employers should be flexible in designing blogging policies. They should have different policies for different jobs. A lobbyist or someone who works in public relations is obviously more exposed to conflict that a computer programmer who works “internally”. Associates who have the power to make decisions about others (whether subordinates, students who are graded, or customers subject to underwriting concerns) are more likely to create “conflict of interest” or workplace disturbance or legal complications with personal postings, than would be individual contributors (with no authority over others). In all cases, associates need to protect confidential information and realize that sometimes privileged information can be inferred from more general postings by others who may know the individual. Employers may want to prohibit mention of the company in conjunction with the expression of personal opinions, but that may not always be sufficient protection against risks.

Some staffing companies who send consultants to clients may believe that they have reason to be concerned about the “online reputation” of consultants. They may fear that clients will not want them if they can find derogatory material (even if false) about consultants online. They may want the consultant to limit his online exposure to “expertise” in specific technical areas. But this may not be a realistic expectation even given the practices of the information technology consulting area, since the growth of the industry has been so unpredictable and many consultants obviously have to shift gears frequently and don’t have vanilla track records of progressive “expertise.”

School districts also are concerned about the “online reputation” of teachers and a few have said that they actually check for this online now. But there would be legal issues because teachers, as public employees, have First Amendment rights that trump until their speech can cause disruption in the school environment, a possibility that is often difficult to predict.

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