Archive for the Social Networking Category

Social Media in the Workplace

In the latest of my interviews with employment-law experts to promote the Austin Human Resource Management Association’s Legal and Regulatory Roundtable, I interviewed Allison Bowers about social media issues in the workplace. We discussed the NLRB’s recent actions concerning employer monitoring of employee’s social media activities as well as whether or not supervisors should “friend” their employees.


In Defense of Social Media and HR

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting The Business Case for Social Media in HR to the Hill Country Human Resources Management Association. What business does the president of the best background screening company in the universe have talking to HR folks about social media, you ask?

I was an HR-guy long before I was a background checks guy. In fact, Imperative Information Group grew out of my HR consulting practice and before that I was the HR guy tasked with, among lots of other things, managing the background screening relationship for a large North Texas hospital chain. So, HR and I go way back.

As far as social media goes, I just think it is really cool. I’m seeing smart recruiters like Jim Schnyder at Pepsico/Frito Lay and Craig Fisher and companies like Intuit do smart and creative things to use social media to attract active and passive candidates and evangelize their employment brand and I almost want to get into recruiting. Short of that, I’m always looking for information that can be helpful to my clients in executing their people strategy and social media has been a big part of that lately.

The HR pros at Hill Country HRMA were really gracious and I enjoyed our time together. Renee Holloway, who coordinated my visit to San Marcos, was extremely kind in a follow up email:

Mr. Coffey,

Thank you so much for your humorous and thought provoking presentation!  The buzz from local HR professionals was top notch about your topic!  We thank you so much for your valuable insight on social media, your time, travel and presentation.
May your 2011 be blessed!
Renee Holloway PHR

Though some of the slides may be out of context apart from the rest of my “humorous and thought provoking presentation” (I’m going to milk that one!), here is a copy of the ever-evolving slide deck for this presentation:

To put one thing in context from the slides, I want to point out that I don’t encourage HR professionals to use Facebook or other social media as a background checking tool for actual candidates. However, recognizing that they are going to do so, I try in the presentation to give them guidelines to consider that may help them stay out of hot water.

The best bet is still to partner with a third-party, like Imperative Information Group, to act as a firewall between the employer and potentially discriminatory information.

Also, here is a list of my upcoming presentations to HR groups:

January 27th: Pineywoods SHRM, Lufkin, TX; Background Checks Under Fire: Employer Considerations to Avoid Discrimination Claims

February 8th: Permian Basin HR, Odessa, TX; What Employers Need to Know About Background Checks

February 9th: Laredo SHRM, Laredo, TX; The Business Case for Social Media in HR

Feburary 10th: Concho Valley SHRM, San Angelo, TX; Background Checks Under Fire: Employer Considerations to Avoid Discrimination Claims

February 17th: East Texas HRA, Lufkin/Tyler, TX; Background Checks Under Fire: Employer Considerations to Avoid Discrimination Claims

March 4th: Williamson County HRMA, Round Rock, TX; What Employers Need to Know About Background Checks

April 12th: Corsicana HR, Corsicana, TX; The Business Case for Social Media in HR

April 21st: Fort Worth HRMA, Fort Worth, TX;  Background Checks Under Fire: Employer Considerations to Avoid Discrimination Claims with Julie Ross, JD!


How Reliable is an FBI Background Check?

Television crime shows like CSI give the impression that the federal government has a comprehensive database of all (or even just the most serious) criminal convictions in the US. With just a few keystrokes, POOF!, an individual’s entire criminal record appears along with an 8×10 color photo, their family details, where they work, their pets’ names, and their shoe size. The truth is far different. (Also, we have regular flourescent lighting in our office, not that pallor-inducing blue light they always have on crime-dramas!)

The term “FBI background check” is a reference to a fingerprint search of the records in the FBI’s Interstate Identification Index’s criminal records (called III or triple-I).  This system contains most if not all of recent federal criminal offenders and many criminal offenders from participating states.

Not all states participate in III and those that do participate don’t always submit all of their records to the FBI. Many don’t even have access to all the records in their own state.

For instance, the Texas Department of Public Safety submits the records for Texas. However, DPS is missing one-third of the criminal cases out there (including one-third of the people currently on death row) so you can expect that III is missing a corresponding number of Texas records.

In 2006 the US Attorney General published a report called The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks.” It is 149 pages long, but here is a key paragraph for employers (emphasis added):

Contrary to common perception, the FBI’s III system is not a complete national database of all criminal history records in the United States. Many state records, whether from law enforcement agencies or the courts, are not included or have not been updated.  For example, not all the state criminal history records or associated fingerprints meet the standards for inclusion in the III. Because of inconsistent state reporting requirements, some criminal history records involve offenses that are not submitted to the FBI. Other records that were submitted to the FBI do not have fingerprints of sufficient quality to be entered into the system. Moreover, many criminal history records may contain information regarding an arrest, but are missing the disposition of that arrest. Currently, only 50 percent of III arrest records have final dispositions. The records of more recent arrests, however, have a higher rate of completeness. Nevertheless, the III, while far from complete, is the most comprehensive single source of criminal history information in the United States, and provides users, at a minimum, with a pointer system that assists in discovering more complete information on a person’s involvement with the criminal justice system.

Most private organizations do not have access to III. There are narrow legislative exceptions such as federally insured banks.
We encourage clients who have access to these records to go ahead and obtain them with the understanding that the results will be similar to our multi-jurisdiction criminal records database product. The III has a good chance of missing a fair number of the criminal records for an individual and everything found should be verified with the original jurisdiction before you make any employment decisions based upon it (hence the references above to missing or non-updated records in the excerpt above).

Also, employers with access to III must also be careful about creating possible liability for themselves by mistakenly using arrest records against applicants. The FBI reports are difficult to read and easy to misunderstand.

As a comparison, when Imperative conducts a background investigation, we are relying primarily on the live records of the courts in each jurisdiction where the person has lived, worked, or attended school during the last ten years or a longer period requested by our client. This research will show recently filed cases as well as older records (determined by how far back the court’s computers go).

The strength of this process is that most people’s criminal records are in the locations where they’ve lived. The state criminal records repositories (such as Texas DPS’ criminal records database) is useful as a safety net that may catch records in other jurisdictions (maybe they got in trouble while traveling) or older records that aren’t reflected on the court’s current computer system (some counties only switched to computerized records in the last ten or fifteen years).

Adding a broader scope database such as an FBI check (in those limited cases where a private entity has access) or Imperative’s multi-jurisdiction criminal records database expands the scope of the safety net. Just remember that these databases (whether government or privately maintained) will miss a fair number of records that can readily be found at the county courthouses – they should always be verified because records change and the resutls aren’t always passed on to the databases.

Imperative encourages clients who do not have access to the FBI records to run our multi-jurisdictional criminal records database product which contains criminal records from those counties and states around the country that will sell their data in electronic format.  We always verify any records found in the multi-jurisdiction database before reporting it to our clients. Here’s why. 

Using Social Media in Recruiting and Selection: Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street…I’m Just Sayin’!

Last Friday, I attended the TCU Neely School of Business’ conference on business uses of social media. It was a great event that included a speaker from LinkedIn, HubspotSABRE Holding’s Cubeless team, and Handango, as well as authors of recent books on Twitter and Facebook.

Using LinkedIn and Facebook for recruiting candidates was a hot topic, especially given the fat-free diets many recruiting departments are on these days. A couple mentions were also made with regard to using social media sites to background check applicants (executive summary: a bad idea… read on).

Worforce Management published an article last week on the same topic. In that article, my friend Pam Devata, an partner in Seyfarth Shaw’s Chicago office, points out:

“Sourcing from professional network sites such as LinkedIn carries a risk that the method could be challenged on discrimination grounds,” Devata says. “It represents a hiring pool that is not open to the general population. Using a limited network may have a disparate impact. If hiring through these networks can be challenged, it will be.”

Notice that Pam doesn’t say “don’t use LinkedIn to recruit.” She simply points out that there is a disparate impact risk in limiting your recruiting tools. Lawyers from other firms make similar observations and advise against using the social media websites as background checking tools. All great advice.

So, I was surprised when one of my favorite HR bloggers, Kris Dunn at Fistful of Talent, responded with an article called ‘Hey Employment Law “Experts”, You’re Killing My Profession.’  Kris isn’t having any of it and argues risk-averse HR departments may take such advice as gospel to their own detriment. Jessica Lee had a similar but more gentle response. I agree that there is a risk there but at the same time I believe that there is a bigger risk of using social media as a recruiting or background screening tool without first evaluating it’s place in the larger legal and talent management framework.

My response to Kris’s article at the FOT website follows:

Anyone who has been through an OFCCP audit or defended an employment discrimination claim recognizes that the advice in the Workforce Management article is on target. On the flip side, though, I agree that too many HR departments are too-risk averse and take legal cautions as gospel.

The government and juries will look at the composition of your applicant pool and your outreach efforts to traditionally disenfranchised populations. You’d better be ready to defend your practices, whatever they are. Identifying and sourcing candidates through social media is great IF your pool of candidates is sufficiently diverse. If not, you better be reaching out to other recruitment sources (ethnic chambers of commerce, traditionally-minority institutions, groups assisting older workers or veterans transition to new jobs, etc.) to at least try to identify qualified candidates. Otherwise, you are painting a target on your back – not to mention potentially excluding some extremely qualified candidates to whom you may not have been exposed otherwise. But by all means, use social media (particularly professionally-orient social media like LinkedIn) to identify potential candidates.

Once an individual has formally expressed interest in a position (ugh, the old quandry about when in your organization an interested party becomes an applicant) the use of social media should be extremely cautious. Using a candidate’s personal blog or facebook page to evaluate their freak-factor is lazy and would be hard to defend against discrimination claims. The EEOC’s E-RACE initiative is targeting these sorts of unvalidated selection procedures.

I’m told that LinkedIn’s Recruiter platform has a means of eliminating photos and other potentially discriminatory information from information received by recruiters. That’s smart. It protects the recruiter from claims of bias (intentional or unintentional).

And while the FOT authors are very professional and deliberative recruiters who will do whatever is necessary to land the best talent for their firms, I’ve known some recruiters and many hiring managers for whom the first impression is as far as they ever get. If that first impression is a five-year-old picture of the candidate doing something stupid in college posted on or tweetpic by someone else, that otherwise qualified candidate is out of the game and everyone loses.

The best advice I have for employers who believe that their employees’ online presence is job-relevant, need-to-know information is to create a firewall between the individual conducting the “social-media background check” and all hiring authorities. The person conducting the research should have clear guidelines about what information would be relevant to the position for which the candidate is being considered. Any potentially relevant information should be shared with a neutral member of management who can assess the information fairly without risking prejudicing the hiring manager prematurely. This reviewing authority might be a senior member of HR, Security, Risk Management, Legal, or perhaps even someone in the chain of command above the hiring manager. In some cases, your background screening firm might provide this service with a strict understanding of what will and will not be reported.

I know that seems a lot more complex than just googling candidates because your CEO “doesn’t like freaks,” but I’ll bet he doesn’t like all the lost productivity that comes from employee relations headaches and lawsuits, either.


Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, contact Mike at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at

Three Great Social Media Reads

I read three very insightful articles about social media, Twitter and Facebook to be exact, today.

Over at Fistful of Talent, Jessica Lee lists ways companies should use Twitter to enhance their employment brand. “Using Twitter will only work if you’ve got a kicking brand already – you can’t buy this stuff and you can’t make any of it up.”

HR Capitali$t Kris Dunn asks “Hey Twitter: Do You Want to Be MySpace or LinkedIn?” in a great article about the rising tide of spam on Twitter.

Finally, over at the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein has a funny but too true piece on the frivolous posts that populate many Facebook feeds. Great advice:

To improve our interactions, we need to change our conduct, not just cover it up. First, watch your own behavior, asking yourself before you post anything: “Is this something I’d want someone to tell me?” “Run it by that focus group of one,” says Johns Hopkins’s Dr. Wallace.

Happy reading!

CareerBuilder: 45% of Employers Use Networking Sites to Vet Candidates

Scott Nishimura at The Fort Worth Star-Telegram just published one of the most well-rounded articles I’ve read about using social media as a background checking tool. I’m not just saying that because he interviewed me for the article!

Email Still #1 Source of Insider Information Leaks but Social Media is Catching Up

According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, email is still the most common culprit in security breaches of company-confidential information. Blogs and other social media tools were also common sources of investigated breaches.

Companies have had email security policies for years. Many are now developing social media policies, as well. Social media policies often walk a fine line between protecting a company’s reputation and proprietary information and making sure that social media consumers (blog readers or Twitter followers, for example) are engaged by the content. Two of my favorite bloggers, Kris Dunn at the HR Capitalst and Jessica Lee at Fistful of Talent, tackle this topic regularly. Click on the links to learn more.

5 Trends in Employment Background Screening

I had the privilege of speaking to the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators’ annual conference last Friday. It’s always gratifying when there is a break in the middle of your presentation and everyone returns! In fact, it was standing room only during the second half of the presentation. (There were around 300 people in the session.)

I promised that I’d post the presentation for those in attendance and maybe you’ll be interested, too! Here you go: Download TALI 08-2009

There are a lot of things going on in the background screening arena and limiting my two-hour presentation to just five was challenging. Here’s a quick rundown of the five trends I tackled for my fellow investigators.

Trend One: Discrimination Claims

The EEOC’s E-RACE (Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment) initiative is “a five-year national outreach, education, and enforcement campaign implemented to advance the legal right to a workplace free of race and color discrimination.” The EEOC’s discussions of this initiative have often mentioned unintentional barriers to employment and they’ve used applicant selection criteria including background checks and credit reports as specific examples of tools that might unintentionally have an adverse employment outcome on protected classes.

In the 3rd Circuit’s decision in El v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Services (SEPTA), the court’s opinion indicated that employers needed to support adverse employment decisions based upon applicant’s crimnal records with empirical evidence reflecting the risk the former offender presents in a given-job.

Employers need to closely examine their use of background investigations when selecting new employees. While that’s not really new advice, it may be time for employers to move a review of their background screening policy up their “to-do” list. Background investigations firms should be ready to consult with their clients and their legal counsel to ensure that the clients are able to maintain both a safe workplace and a defensible hiring process.

Trend Two: State PI Licensing

This is becoming a hot issue in Texas and other states. The Texas Occupations Code makes it clear that a private investigations license is required for any company selling background checks in Texas. Acting without an investigations license or buying services from an unlicensed firm is a Class A misdemeanor. Many firms have ignored this requirement because their has been very little enforcement by the state’s Private Security Board.

However, the PSB has stepped up enforcement of this requirement and recently challenged Harris County, Texas’ award of a background screening contract to an unlicensed firm. The outcome of this case has not yet been determined but the fact that PSB is taking action should put unlicensed firms and employers on notice.

Trend Three: Consumer Protection

This is one of my regular soapbox items. There are many great background screening companies around the country but there are still many who are either not in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the federal law intended to protect individuals from bad background checks) or are so cavalier with their quality that they routinely misreport negative information. This is bad for job seekers, employers, and the background screening industry.

One bright spot in the area of consumer protection is Concerned CRAs, an informal collaboration of over 120 background screening firms who have certified that they will take extra steps to ensure the accuracy of criminal records reported from so-called national databases. We have also agreed to avoid sending indivduals’ information to foreign countries (off-shoring data).

Trend Four: Social Networking Sites & Blogs

As the influence of social media grows, many employers are interested in reviewing candidates’ online profiles as part of their employment screening practice. We always advise caution in this area and encourage employers or screening firms to ask themselves the following questions when considering using facebook or other sites as sources of potentially negative information about applicants:


  • Can the source of information be verified? Are you really looking at the applicant’s facebook page or could this be a mean-spirited hoax?
  • Can the information be verified? Is there a better source than a MySpace page or a blog for the purported information?
  • Is the information prurient or is it indicative of job-related behavior?

In other words, you probably don’t want to do this as you first conceived it. It may be reasonable, however, for an employer’s screening partner to review an applicant’s online presence and then independently seek verification of any job-relevant information from more reliable sources.

There is a more complete discussion in a blog article I wrote earlier this year.

Trend Five: NAPBS Accreditation

This is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened in the employment screening field this year. After five long years, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners rolled out their accreditation program this spring.

As a past chair of the commitee that developed the accreditation standard, I believe we’ve designed a rigorous program that will improve the operations of any firm seeking accreditation. Currently, a handful of firms are involved in the beta-test of accreditation program. Once their preparations and audits have been completed and any tweaks of the process are made, applications will be taken from the wider screening community.

There are easily a dozen other hot trends occuring in the employment screening profession. As always, if you have questions about your screening options, please feel free to call me!


Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, please contact us at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at

The Imperative Podcast: The Business Case for Social Media with Shama Hyder


Shama HyderNot long ago, most people’s sphere of influence extended to maybe a few dozen friends and colleagues and, if you really worked your network, some of their contacts. Networking meant working the telephone, going to after-hours mixers, and joining community organizations.

Over the last decade, that’s all changed. What started out as basically toys used by teenagers to chat with one another online are being used by savvy business professionals to expand their networks to hundreds or thousands of people and are changing the way companies present themselves to the public.

In this episode of The Imperative Podcast, Mike talks with Shama Hyder of Click To Client, an online marketing firm that teaches individuals and companies how to be online rockstars. Shama says employers can gain an advantage in recruiting and networking by using social media tools because “that’s where the people are.”

For more information about Shama Hyder, visit her website at

Also note that during the month of January, Imperative is hosting the first Imperative Podcast Listener Contest. The winner of the contest will receive a new iPod nano. For details on how to enter, please click here.

We hope you enjoy the podcast!

Three ways to listen to the podcast:

1. You can listen using our java-enabled player at the top of this post.

2. Or you can listen to the podcast in your computer’s mp3 program by clicking the “Play mp3″ button below (or right-click on the button and select “save target as…” to save the mp3 to your computer).


3. Or you can download the podcast and subscribe to future podcasts via iTunes.


Imperative Information Group is a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, please contact Micah Taylor at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at

The Wrong Way to Use Social Networking in HR

There are bad ideas and then there are REALLY BAD ideas., which claims to be “the world’s leading people search engine” (Ever heard of ‘em? I didn’t think so), is promoting use of its search engine by “hiring managers to check applicants social status, online identity, and soft references not available from paid financial and criminal background checks.” In other words, they want employers to check out applicants’ MySpace or Facebook sites before making a hiring decision.

There are a couple significant reasons why this is a REALLY BAD idea.

First, there are equal employment opportunity problems. The Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws protect individuals from discrimination because of age, sex, race, religion, country of origin, union involvement, disability, and a host of other reasons. Many social networking profiles, particularly those focused on friends and family connections,  would suggest whether an individual may be a member in one of these protected classes. Once an employer has that information in their possession, the burden will be on them to prove that the information didn’t influence the employment decision if a discrimination claim is made. (There’s a reason that information isn’t included on your employment application, after all.)

Secondly, how do you know where the information really came from? Just because a site claims to be your applicant, can you know for sure that it is? Anyone can create an online profile for anyone else. By grabbing photos from legitimate sites and using basic Photoshop skills, you can create images that make the person look like they were partying like it was 1999. Add some choice links to lurid websites and a few status updates that reflect political persuasion or opinions about employer-employee relationships and you’ve got a profile for an unemployable person.

Perhaps one of your open positions is for one of the 2% of jobs where the applicant’s lifestyle is relevant (Obama administration appointment, C-level leadership, or other high-profile, media-scrutinized positions) and you feel certain that in this narrow case due diligence requires that you review a candidate’s online presence. Proceed with caution and the advice of your employment law counsel. Have clear guidelines about the nature of the information you are seeking and segregate all other information from the hiring authority’s decision making process.

In some cases, we’ve conducted this kind of research on behalf of our clients. We use the social networking sites strictly as indicators of potentially relevant information and independently verify all information (good or bad) before reporting it to our client.

Social networking sites are great for identifying potential job candidates in the recruiting process. However, once an individual has expressed interest in a position, HR should be very wary of using this information.

See my other recent thoughts on social networking and HR. Next week, I am interveiwing Shama Hyder of Click to Client, an expert in social networking. We are also scheduling future podcasts with recruiters who are using social networking in identifying candidates, so stay tuned.

Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, please contact Micah Taylor at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at
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