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Tips for hiring remote workers during these tough times and beyond

by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Cropped shot of a handsome young man using his laptop at home

Your company’s online reputation is one of its most valuable assets, accounting for at least 50% of its market value. This makes it vitally important to choose wisely when hiring employees who will represent your company and its values. 

However, in this era of social distancing and statewide lockdowns, many companies are having to risk their reputations by hiring remote workers without first meeting them in person to get a feel for their personality. Luckily, there are ways you can use the Internet to determine whether an individual is a good fit for your organization.

Here are some tips on how to evaluate a candidate via his or her online presence.

Look in the right places online

70% of employers think it’s important to assess a candidate’s personality. A great way to get to know them is to look in the places they are most active online.

“See where they hang out and see how helpful they are to see their “real” colors, not just what they show you in an interview.”—Jill Caren, founder and owner of 2 Dogs Media.

Social media

Social media is a great place to witness someone’s true character. This is why two-thirds of employers research social media profiles when screening potential employees. 

When you look at a candidate’s public posts, you should ask yourself: 

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  • Do the posts match the persona displayed on his or her resume? 
  • Is the tone mostly positive or negative?
  • Do the posts reveal a lack of good judgement?
  • Does the candidate use context-appropriate grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
  • Does he or she respect other people’s opinions?

Hiring managers glean a lot of information about you from social media, including details about the types of workplace cultures you thrive in, your values, personal skills and attributes, and the overall likelihood of you being successful in their organisation.”—Bethan Robbins, commercial director of recruitment at Hays Gulf Region

Search engine results

The results that appear when you google someone (otherwise known as their online reputation) are a good indicator of what type of person a candidate is. This is why nearly 80% of recruiters do an online search when screening candidates. 

To start your search, simply type the candidate’s name and other pertinent information into a search engine to see what kind of online reputation he or she has. 

Use several variations of the person’s name. For example:

firstname + lastname

firstname + middle initial + lastname

firstname + lastname + occupation

firstname + lastname + city

Then, look at the first page or two of results and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this person have zero search results?—People who are invisible online might just be uncomfortable with technology. On the other hand, they might also have something to hide. Because of this, 47% of recruiters are less likely to call someone in for an interview if they can’t find that person online. 
  • Are most of the items on the first page positive or negative?—Obviously, if the first 10 results all mention some illegal activity, hate-riddled screeds written by the candidate, or angry comments directed at the candidate, then you will want to pass on him or her and focus on someone with a more trustworthy online reputation. 
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Ideally, candidates should own the top results for their name. So, when you search for them, you see a personal website that showcases their personal brand and highlights their skills and achievements. You would also see their LinkedIn profile and links to any third-party sites they’ve contributed content to.

Online forums

It can be hard to find a candidate’s comments and questions on online forums like Quora and Reddit if you don’t know his or her username. However, if someone is using a variation of their real name, you can often discover what he or she has posted by searching for firstname + lastname + forumname

When you identify your candidate’s username, do a search on the platform for that username to see the individual’s activity history. Then, ask yourself the following:

  • Does the candidate answer questions authoritatively?
  • Do the candidate’s comments project a professional image?

Watch for these warning signs 

When you are examining a candidate’s online activity, there are certain items that should make you think twice about hiring that person.

These include:

  • Indications that the individual has exaggerated his or her qualifications
  • Explicit photos or statements
  • Criticism about a former coworker or employer
  • Comments that reveal confidential information about a previous employer 
  • Inflammatory remarks concerning race, gender, or religion
  • Indications of criminal behavior

The candidates we look for are senior executives, so if we find a lot of private information about the person or company posted on Facebook, that would be considered a red flag because this creates a risk for the company and the individual.”—Magdy El Zein, the managing director of Boyden Middle East and North Africa

Know which warning signs aren’t really a big deal

Not all incriminating items you find in someone’s search results or social media posts are worth worrying about. For example, while a mugshot of a conviction for indecent exposure is usually an automatic “no,” pictures of the candidate holding a glass of wine at a party do not automatically imply that he or she has a drinking problem. 

Ask candidates about anything that raises concerns

Sometimes, a person’s online reputation can contain outdated or misleading information. When you come across something worrying that a candidate has posted, or something someone else posted about him or her, you should give the individual a chance to explain—especially if the position the person is applying for is not a highly visible one and not many people are likely to be searching for the candidate online.

Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Take a step back and realize that you might be misinterpreting his or her remarks. Or, there might be extenuating circumstances behind someone’s negative post. For example, an ex romantic partner might have shared damaging content online to hurt the candidate after a breakup, or the candidate was arrested but was never convicted of any crime.

However, if the open position will be highly visible, and many people will be googling this person, you need to worry more about how this individual’s online reputation might harm the company’s reputation. In cases like this, you should sympathize with candidates and tell them that you will reconsider them for employment after they have repaired their search results.

Ensure candidates’ resumes match their LinkedIn profiles and search results

To verify that a candidate actually possesses the skills and achievements listed on his or her resume, you can:

  • Google the candidate’s name—See if any search results provide proof of the candidate’s assertions. If, for example, a candidate is a graphic designer, then he or she should have an online portfolio of his or her work. Not having this online proof makes the individual appear untrustworthy. 
  • Examine his or her LinkedIn profile—Look for evidence that the candidate has completed certification or training. Often, LinkedIn courses show up as a badge.

Test candidates for soft skills

As an employer, you know the value of soft skills like communication, interpersonal skills, and problem solving. Unfortunately, these abilities are often hard to judge in a normal interview situation because candidates tend to show you the persona they think you want to see. 

…you will always be better served looking for aptitude rather than expertise..”—David Brown, director at Sentia

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It’s even harder to test for these skills when you conduct interviews via video conferencing. One big problem is the lack of eye contact. Another is the difficulty in reading facial expressions on a screen. In fact, a McMaster University study showed that job applicants who participated in video interviews appeared less likable, while the interviewers came across as less competent.

Some ways to determine whether or not a candidate possesses the right soft skills include:

  • Giving them an online soft skills test

In my experience, the best thing to ask is what they like to write about (I hire writers mostly) and WHY? The why gives me some insight into their personality.”—Adriana Tica, owner of Copywritech and Idunn

  • Asking them to list the soft skills they think would be necessary for success in the role
  • Giving them problems that they must use soft skills to solve

You just want to see how the candidate responds to that situation. Can they take charge? Can they think creatively? Are they good at things beyond the expected skillset?”—SEO Elixir, a digital marketing firm

  • Adding an element of chaos to the interview to see how they react

Get halfway into a long and convoluted sentence and the freeze and see what they do. Or say “fish” and then continue like normal.”—“Lyndon (Autocrat) Nelson-Allen, Internet business consultant

Intentionally mess things up during the process, just to see how they react.”—Joseph M. Yeager, founder of Safety Net of PA

  • Giving them a list of soft skills and asking them to rank which ones best represent them
See your business's reputation the way your customers do. Get your free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Ensure the candidate has access to a good work environment 

A key factor to consider when researching candidates online is whether or not they have a good work environment. Does the candidate appear to have a dedicated work area that is free from distractions? Or, is he or she complaining on Twitter about being locked down in a tiny studio apartment with four other people?

One good way to check out a candidate’s work environment is to examine his or her surroundings during a video interview. Does the background appear organized? Are people coming and going in and out of the room?

Remember, this person—and his or her workspace—might someday be representing your company during video calls. As such, it’s a good idea to make sure the image they project is a professional one.

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Hopefully, this is enough to get you started. We wish you the best of luck in hiring the perfect remote employee during this pandemic—and in the future—because after all of the recent investment in remote technology, remote work might just become the new normal.