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(Originally posted on Stack Overflow but closed there and more relevant for here)

So we first interviewed a guy for a technical role and he was pretty good. Before the second interview we googled him and found his MySpace page which could, to put it mildly, be regarded as inappropriate. Just to be clear there was no doubt that it was his page (name, photos, matching biographical information and so on).

The content was entirely personal and in no way related to his professional abilities or attitude.

Is it fair to consider this when thinking about whether to offer them a job?

In most situations my response would be what goes on in someone's private life is their own doing. However for anyone technical who professes (implicitly or explicitly) to understand the Internet and the possibilities it offers, is posting things in a way which can so obviously be discovered a significant error of judgement?

EDIT: Clarification - essentially it was a fairly graphic commentary on porn (but of, shall we say, a non-academic nature). I'm actually more interested in the general concept than the specific incident as it's something we're likely to see more in the future as people put more and more of themselves on-line.

My concerns are not primarily about him and how he feels about such things (he's white, straight, male and about the last possible victim of discrimination on the planet in that sense), more how it reflects on the company that a very simple search (basically his name) returns these things and that clients may also do it. We work in a relatively conservative industry.

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Could you please elaborate the "inappropriate" with examples? –  user2567 Nov 16 '10 at 9:29
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Could make for some awkward interview questions "so looking into your background a little, we notice you show a particular interest in...erm... big-endian addressing and the visitor pattern..." –  glenatron Nov 16 '10 at 10:23
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@glenatron - I did ask him about it (this specific example has been resolved, I just want to understand how programmers generally feel about this for the future). It was, for me at least, one of the more fun things I've had to ask someone about in an interview. For those who are interested he did get the job, and he's worked out fine, I just told him to keep a hard demarcation between what he put on his personal blog and anything relating to the company. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 16 '10 at 11:57
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If personal life is separated from professional life, than I see no reason why it should matter. If the person can not do that than don't hire them. –  Tony Nov 16 '10 at 12:54
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I think the bigger issue of concern here is... MySpace? –  GrandmasterB Nov 16 '10 at 19:12
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closed as off topic by Mark Trapp Oct 29 '11 at 21:16

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15 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

You have to take things on a case by case basis.

You cannot blanket statement say "we will choose between candidates based on what they say online."

If you find a web page where your candidate says, "Here are the nine steps to fooling any interviewer into believing you are a good programmer." Clearly you need to consider this.

On the other hand, if a page you find about them says "I like big butts, and I cannot lie." Well I don't think it's fair to judge them on that.

You have to make you decision based on what you know (obviously, you know that) but be aware of your prejudices, and put yourself in their shoes.

Update

If your company's image is what you're worried about, there are two factors you need to consider: the likelihood that a customer will meet your candidate, and the likelihood that the customer will then go on to Google stalk your candidate. I imagine the second is so low as to make the first immaterial, and generally the first is quite low too.

Update

In response to the comment that you need to consider the impact of discovery.

Absolutely. I had forgotten about that. I think that would be the likelihood that discovery would cause a noticeable loss of income.

I still think this is offset by the likelihood of Google stalking. But then, I'm not a conservative type, so I don't know how they react to meeting new people, particularly people that don't hold a lot of clout in an organisation.

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@Matt - isn't there a third factor: the potential impact if it is discovered? If that's high enough then the very low likelihood is somewhat balanced out. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 16 '10 at 11:29
    
@Matt - I have found that more and more people research the company online, and if you consider linked profiles it's pretty easy to find information without 'stalking' –  Rox Nov 16 '10 at 11:59
    
@Rox: Have you got to someone's Myspace page through reading company literature? If you got there by taking someone's name from a company website and Googling them, then you Google stalked them. But if you're correct, that Google stalking is prevalent, then the risk is quite high and so the Myspace page should be taken into account. –  Matt Ellen Nov 16 '10 at 12:14
    
@Matt: I suppose the boundary between normal searching and 'stalking' could be difficult to define, but as long as the information is public and easy to find, it should be presumed that anybody, including a potential customer, could find it. –  Rox Nov 16 '10 at 12:32
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@Rox: also, just because you can find it doesn't mean you will. My point is that I don't think most customers will search for the details that Jon Hopkins found. But I am assuming things about the behaviours of customers I know nothing about. –  Matt Ellen Nov 16 '10 at 12:57
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Oh Sex! You would be surprised of the diversity of the thing. Yesterday on TV, there was a documentary on fetishism. That was very instructive. I wasn't aware of all the things people could do... did you knew about zentai???

My opinion is regardless their private practices (as soon as it doesn't hurt someone else), such difference should not be used to pick, or not pick someone, just like his skin color, religion or political orientation.

I want also add that if he is happy in his sexuality, this will affect his work at your company positively.

On ther other hand, it's perfectly understandable that his behavior outside the company may affect the company. And therefore, some juridictions may approve firing someone that had bad behavior. And it's perfectly understandable that a company won't hire someone telling on his blog that his thing is animals, or that he likes to be nude in parks.

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If it's a discussion about their personal choice in the matter, then everything's ok. If they're passing judgement about someone else's choice, not so much (especially if it's in an aggressive manner) –  Rox Nov 16 '10 at 9:51
    
Just updated the question to show why I think this might not be the heart of the issue. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 16 '10 at 10:44
    
I will update my answer accordingly then –  user2567 Nov 16 '10 at 10:52
    
The link is SFW, but kind of weird. +1 for your answer. –  Inaimathi Nov 16 '10 at 14:54
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When you hire somebody you are not just hiring technical ability. You are also hiring personality, and in fact its the personality part that makes working with others either easy or hard.

Personality (or "character") is the bit thats hardest to judge during an interview process, and the part that causes the most problems in the workplace. The more you can find out about a person, who they are, how they think, what they think, how they act and react - the better able you are to make a judgement about whether you can or want to work with them. If they are foolish enough to put information in a public space which lets you form that judgement more easily, then so be it. Use it, for better or worse. Just do not ever explain the reason you used for the "no hire" decision.

Feeling uncomfortable with somebody (and hence no hire) is common enough during an interview - the attitude, demeanor, zip / zing / whatever all forms part of your opinion, and nobody says you can't use that. Public information about character is no different.

However - a caution - HR / personnel departments can frown in using this kind of public information on the grounds that private life is not work. However, I have to disagree with them.

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The HR people I've known would absolutely use information like this. They just wouldn't say they were using it. –  Scott Whitlock Nov 16 '10 at 17:31
    
++ You've captured my attitude about it perfectly. It's about character - honesty, regard for others, etc. If it makes one nervous, it will continue to do so. –  Mike Dunlavey Nov 17 '10 at 2:59
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It is absolutely relevant.

It is part of his background and gives you an extra autobiographical view into his personality. You have a very limited ability fin an interview and from a CV to find out whether someone will fit in your company. This is another resource that gives further insight into his attitudes and behaviour. It would seem that often people are more open on facebook, maybe bragging about pulling a sickie or being too hung over to go to work. If this is acceptable at your company then you can ignore these confessions. If not then don't hire.

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It depends on what that info is (is it more of an 'awkward stuff I wouldn't want public' or more serious), but it might show what that person would be like when interacting with the other employees, and that might have a big impact on the team.

Also, if you hire him and somebody who wants to work with your company finds that info, how would that affect your company?

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It will be totally fair if you talk with the person under question about what they have published on the Internet. My employer did talk about my social networking profiles and what I have published there. In the end, they were happy, and, I got recruited.

I had published personal as well as professional information on those social networking pages. I talked with the employer about everything they told they had seen and brought up for discussion.

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It's not always clear which MySpace and Facebook content is public.

To me the main questions are: what does it tell about him and how would this relate to his work at your company?

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In a perfect world, only if it relates to programming like SO posts.

For non-programming behaviors, you have to decide if it will impact their job performance. Someone who likes to party is not necessarily a problem, but when they post "I was so ripped I had to call off work for 3 days." you may want to see if they have changed. It is fair to ask a recent college graduate if they are going to be able to make the adjustment to the real world and get their priorities straight.

I'm amazed at some of the responses that seem overly-concerned with others fitting in. If you can't work with other people who are not like you, you and/or your company have a problem. This is beyond the illegal (in some countries) practice of bias towards race/creed, gender, and religion. Don't hire a gun collector for fear they may bring one to the office if they become disgruntled. How silly would it be to not hire a tri-athlete because they may go for a run and show up to work sweaty and smelly in front of clients. You have to know whether or not the candidate can differentiate what is appropriate at work and what isn't.

Being concerned with whether or not an employee can show some discretion is important. Many have mentioned the likely hood of getting caught. Asking someone to wear a disguise when they go to an adult club, is a little creepy.

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I think the part that makes it relevant is that most people, if they were going to be posting this kind of content, would want to do so under some kind of pseudonym. By attaching it directly to your real world identity I guess you're either really confident about these matters or a little bit ill-adjusted socially. Perhaps, depending on the content and context, something of both.

It would be very hard not to take that information into account when you are considering potential employees and I do think that not to have thought of that shows a potential lack of professionalism, certainly a lack of common-sense if you're going for interview. You would also have to think about the effect that posting this type of content would have on colleagues if they were to google on someone's name- would it make any of their co-workers feel awkward or ill at ease?

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For the most part, it is up to you. You would have some legal exposure if you considered factors that are protected such as marital status or religion after seeing information about those online. For the most part, you get to decide on personality.

Speaking for myself, I don't put anything on a blog or my Facebook page that I wouldn't want the entire world to know about me. I find people who make private details so public to be a little odd but wouldn't normally be biased against them from a hiring perspective.

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This is really a question for your HR department. My personal opinion is that publishing something on the Internet is equivalent to publishing something in a book. However, that won't help you if you get sued for employment discrimination.

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We're a small company, I'm the development manager and I'm the closest we have to an HR department... That aside I'm interested in what programmers believe is reasonable as that should be one input (not the only one but one) into the process. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 16 '10 at 13:54
    
In that case, you may want to consult a lawyer. Good luck. –  Larry Coleman Nov 16 '10 at 13:58
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Is it fair to consider this when thinking about whether to offer them a job?

Yes, though I would argue that seeking clarification may be a good idea. Could what was posted be old enough that this would now be retracted? How well would someone defend what they posted? Shouldn't the candidate have a chance to defend themselves?

In most situations my response would be what goes on in someone's private life is their own doing. However for anyone technical who professes (implicitly or explicitly) to understand the Internet and the possibilities it offers, is posting things in a way which can so obviously be discovered a significant error of judgement?

Not necessarily. Could the material be bait as some part of a sting operation? Is the material dated enough that what you are seeing is years old that may or may not still be relevant,e.g. if someone posted a claim of Google being dead 2 years ago that it would happen within 6 months this would be a big blow to credibility to my mind? As there are, however remote, rational justifications for doing what was done, I'd give the person a chance to explain themselves. If they seem shocked that you found this, then there was a significant error of judgment. Making assumptions can be very dangerous here is a caution I would point out. Granted that I'm speculating of why it may not be a horrible idea but this is because your post suggests you already have that side of the argument and want some ammo for the other side as most things can be argued from either side, at least in my experience.

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Maybe flip it around: if you found out this person was (say) a former World Cup soccer champion, or had received the Congressional Medal of Honor, would you be more likely to hire them? Either way, I think it's totally valid to use this information when making your decision. For example, if the candidate professed serious political/religious/racist beliefs, you should consider whether they would integrate well with the rest of the department.

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It is hard to say without knowing the exact nature of his commentary. If he is giving a fairly graphic description of his weekend exploits then I doubt many people would have an issue with it. Most people say and think similar things but just don't post it publicly.

Having said that, when you hire you have to hire people with the character that will fit in with your company and that goes beyond just basic competence. Hiring someone who can't stop talking to work in a library is probably not a good idea, even if they can recite Shakespeare.

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If you are concerned that a simple Google search for an employee's name may return material that a conservative client would consider inappropriate, then this would also apply if that material was actually put up by someone who just happens to have the same name as your candidate. Yes, in this case, you had enough information to tell it was definitely him. But your clients won't have full biographical info. They may hit some false positives.

If this is the issue, then you shouldn't hire either candidate. The porn fan, or the non-porn fan with an unfortunate namesake. Yes, that may seem unfair to the guy with no control over what his namesake does, but it's a logical conclusion - how will your clients tell the difference? (I would actually feel really uncomfortable doing this, although it is logical: perhaps this means I should avoid taking up a job with a very conservative firm.)

Personally, while I consider professional sites fair game, I try not to look through social networking sites for job candidates' names. I don't want to know about potentially protected characteristics of candidates before interview. Whether they have a good professional rep, yeah sure - but personal stuff? Do I really want to know that my job candidate is a committed Christian divorcee who's worked as a model for fetish wear designers, had a mild mental breakdown 15 years ago, and supports political candidate X?

I know none of those things would affect my judgement, but I'd hate to put myself in the position of having to prove it. (And, fwiw, all of this kind of info could be gleaned from stuff put up by other people, not the job candidate themselves, so personal judgment is really a separate issue). After you've interviewed seems safer - you've already made a judgment of professional competence, uninfluenced by other issues. (Which is actually what you did, given that you'd interviewed once before finding the site.)

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