In any business, employees are a reflection on the organization. Nowhere is this more true than in restaurants, where often, a large number of employees are on the front line of customer service and interaction. And in restaurants, the stakes are higher, too. Just one negative experience with an employee can reflect poorly on your restaurant. Unhappy customers, bad reviews, and poor service are all at risk. Are you screening candidates to make sure they’re prepared to reflect positively on your restaurant?
If you’re not, it’s clear that others are. Online screenings are on the rise among recruiters and employers. Social media is used by 92% of U.S. companies to screen and recruit during the hiring process. And it makes sense: with social media and online screenings, you can get a better understanding of candidates, and catch any red flags that might be a cause for concern.

Though screening candidates online has its advantages, it also presents a number of liabilities. Candidates may prefer to keep their online lives private, screenings may reveal information with the potential for discrimination, and you might make decisions based on false information, such as a mistaken identity or online slander. With our guide to online research for restaurant employees, you’ll find the resources you need to effectively screen candidates without worry.

Research

Where to Research Restaurant Employees: You want to research your job applicants online, but where exactly is the best place to do it? Many employers start with Google to reveal an applicant’s online identity, but that’s not the only source at your disposal. Social media is an increasingly popular resource. Facebook is a good place to start, with 65% of employers recruiting on the social network. You may also find that Twitter, Instagram, and other popular social networks are strong sources of information.

How to Research Restaurant Employees Online: In a high turnover industry, restaurants simply don’t have hours to devote to researching every candidate’s online background. Find out how you can discover the information you’re looking for efficiently and effectively.

Job Candidate Red Flags: In an online candidate screening, you should be looking for positive confirmation that an applicant is the strong applicant that you believe they are, but an online search may reveal certain red flags. What should put you on high alert? Illegal activity, badmouthing former employers, and questionable photos are all signs of trouble.

Signs You’ve Found a Good Restaurant Employee: Though it’s important to keep an eye out for red flags, your online search should be primarily positive. Look for signs that your applicant would make a good restaurant employee. A positive online attitude and good communication skills may tell you that you’ve found a winner.

Nothing to Find: Some candidates may have little to no online presence, or have most of their online life locked down behind privacy walls. Is this a red flag? Be careful not to quickly dismiss a candidate if you can’t find much about them online.

Research Policies

The Perfect Time to Research Applicants: In the restaurant business, there’s simply not much time to spend vetting candidates. But online research can be an involved, time consuming process. At what point is it worth it to research potential restaurant employees online? For some restaurant owners, online screening makes sense as a final step in the hiring process.

Trusting Your Research: Applicants with a common name may have many identities online, but only one of them is actually theirs. How can you know you’ve found the right one? Further, can you trust everything you find online about a candidate? Find out how you can confirm an applicant’s identity and discover reliable information.

Avoiding Discrimination: In the hiring process, it’s illegal to ask about race, religion, health, and other protected information. But in an online search, especially on social media, you may discover this information, even if you’re not actively seeking it out? How can you avoid making this information a liability?

Protecting Candidate Privacy: It seems that curious researchers can find everything about a person online these days, from the address where you grew up to the names of your children. There’s not much privacy for job candidates online, but restaurant hiring managers should respect any privacy restrictions that exist. Avoid pushing your way into private profiles and bending the rules of online privacy.

Research Fairness and Consistency: You may consider “Googling” a potential employee a casual action that simply tells you more about a candidate, but if it’s a part of your hiring process, it’s essential that you make it fair and consistent for all applicants. Creating a consistent online research policy can help you avoid discrimination.

Developing Research Records: Making online research a part of your hiring process also means making it a part of your human resources documentation. Along with your candidate’s applicantion, resume, and other documents, you’re required by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to maintain online research that may have had an impact on your hiring decision.

Using What You’ve Found Online: After all of the research is done, how can you put it to work? Take what you’ve found and use it to better understand job applicants, sharing what you’ve found in follow up interviews or in employee training.

Key takeaways:

  • Research right before you make hiring decisions: Save research only for candidates that have passed all other screenings.
  • Check out social media: Google is a great source of information, but Facebook or Twitter may be more revealing.
  • Catch red flags: Keep an eye out for warning signs of a troublesome job candidate.
  • Look for positive signs: In addition to red flags, be sure to look for signs that you’ve found a good candidate for the job.
  • Develop a consistent research policy: Make sure you’re fair in your hiring standards by researching each candidate consistently.

With online screening, you can confirm that you’ve found a great employee for your restaurant, or dismiss candidates that show signs of trouble. Fair and consistent online screenings are a great way to support your hiring process and ensure that you’re bringing only the best employees to your restaurant.

Research

Where to Research Restaurant Employees

Google is a great place to find information about job applicants, but it’s not the only place. Social networks and other online sources are also great. In fact, a 2012 CareerBuilder survey indicates that 37% of employers research job candidates on social networking sites. Those numbers will grow, as an additional 11% reported that they plan to start screening via social media. If you’re going beyond Google, where exactly should you look?

  • LinkedIn is a social network for processionals. Serious candidates may have a profile on this website, and it’s great news if you can find it. This is a good place to see a candidate’s work background, references, and even accomplishments. Simply finding a LinkedIn profile for your restaurant job applicant is a good sign, but it’s even better if they have a strong profile with a professional photo, connections, and activity on the website. Positive recommendations from former employers, projects, and engagement should make you feel confident about any candidate with a LinkedIn profile.
  • Facebook is a good place to learn about an applicant’s personality and attitude. The social network is a popular source for online recruitment, 65% of employers using Facebook to learn more about employees. Be on high alert for red flags on Facebook, where candidates may be more casual with photos and comments.
  • Twitter provides employers with a quick, short way to gain insight into a candidate’s personality and interests. With just 140 characters or less per tweet, there’s still a lot to learn. Look for retweets they’ve shared, hashtags they participate in, and who they’re following on Twitter.
  • Google+ isn’t the most popular social network for candidate research, with the second-highest number of active users after Facebook, it shouldn’t be ignored. Employers will appreciate Google+’s useful search tools that make research easy.
  • Last but not least, Google is always a good place to find information about job candidates. You can find articles, personal sites, community involvement, and social networks you might not have considered before. Find relevant results by searching for your candidate’s full name with quotes (“John Doe”), and remember that if you’re signed in to Google, you will be shown customized results, so it may be a good idea to log out first.

 

Key facts:

  • 37% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates
  • 11% don’t screen via social networking yet, but plan to do so
  • 63% of employers use LinkedIn to screen candidates
  • 65% of employers screen via Facebook

 

How to Research Restaurant Employees Online

Go deeper than the first page of Google to find what you really need to know about job candidates. Here’s how experienced recruiters recommend making the most of an online candidate search:

  • “The world wide web is expansive and you can get lost in research if you are not careful. Before an offer is tendered, I will invest a little more time in the research process. I find this approach is the best use of my time.” – Megan McCann, McCann Partners.
  • “Be thorough. Make sure the profile actually belongs to the candidate, and if in doubt, don’t just assume it’s the right profile or you could end up discounting a perfect candidate by accident.” – Amy Edwards, Bubble Jobs.
  • “On Google, put the person’s name in quotation marks. Do a search with their middle initial and one with their middle name.” – Bruce Hurwitz, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.39.00 PM

Job Candidate Red Flags

Even though many job searchers know that employers research candidates online before extending an employment offer, you’d be surprised how much questionable material job candidates leave for hiring managers to find. Offensive photos, incendiary opinions, even complaints about former (and current) employers are still often found in search results and in social media. With 34% of hiring managers dismissing candidates based on what they’ve found on social media, it’s clear that you may find red flags in your online research. What should you keep an eye out for?

  • A problem with the law or ethics, which may suggest an employee who can’t follow authority. Drinking or drug use is also a red flag.
  • Insulting comments and extreme opinions can reveal a candidate that is difficult to work with and may become a liability.
  • Inappropriate photos and language show that a candidate is not mature and may not understand how to avoid embarrassing your restaurant.
  • Criminal offenses and negative news stories should be investigated.
  • Poor communication skills, such as bad grammar or online arguments suggest a candidate may not be cut out for customer service.
  • Negative discussions of work, including employees and coworkers, raise a red flag that you may be badmouthed by this employee someday. They may also have difficulty working with others.

Of course, before you quickly dismiss a candidate for red flag content, you should make sure that you’ve found truly reliable information. Look for a pattern of offenses, and be sure to verify that you’ve found the right profile.

Key facts:

34% of hiring managers report dismissing candidates based on what they’ve found on social media

Including:

  • inappropriate content
  • poor communication skills
  • badmouthing former employers, coworkers, or clients
  • lying about qualifications

Signs You’ve Found a Good Restaurant Employee

Online research isn’t just for finding red flags, it’s for revealing and confirming positive traits in potential employees. You’ll want to make sure that a candidate fits in with your restaurant culture, has good communication skills, and can conduct themselves professionally. Positive information is powerful: 29% of hiring managers report offering candidates a job based on what they’ve found online. What should you be looking for?

  • Professionalism: Does the candidate project a professional persona online? Remember that their actions will be a reflection on your restaurant. Don’t expect to see resume-quality material everywhere online, but at the very least, public postings should be positive, polite, and well-written. “If it’s public, it has to be professional,” says executive recruiter Bruce Hurwitz.
  • Resume consistency: Is your applicant telling the truth about where they’ve worked? Check online to see if their work history timelines and accomplishments can be backed up by an online profile.
  • Works well with others: Look for signs that a job candidate maintains positive relationships with others, including those they’ve worked with.
  • Good communication skills: Is the candidate able to communicate with others in a positive manner? Study their online interactions to make sure they take a friendly and polite approach to all communication.

Nothing to Find

It’s frustrating to come up emptyhanded in online candidate research. It might even make you suspicious, or wonder if an absence of information means there’s nothing good to share. What exactly are they trying to hide? Some recruiters, like Bruce Hurwitz, think it’s a bad sign when there’s absolutely no information about a candidate online:

“In today’s day and age, if there is no mention of you at all on the Internet, it means that no one with access to an Internet-connected computer thinks you are worth mentioning,” says Hurwitz. “No employer has included you on their website. No reporter has seen fit to quote you. You have never been moved to write or comment on anything. You have never received an award or a public “thank you.” Why would anyone want to consider such a candidate?”

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.39.11 PM

But does that mean job candidates that can’t be researched online should be dismissed? Not necessarily. If online interaction isn’t part of their job, having an online persona shouldn’t be a hard-line requirement. Amy Edwards with Bubble Jobs says a lack of information online isn’t always a bad thing. “If they have their settings set to private, it suggests their social media platforms are for personal use, rather than public consumption, so probably shouldn’t be taken into consideration when recruiting,” she says.

Research Policies

The Perfect Time to Research Candidates

In an industry that is in the constant business of hiring, restaurant managers simply don’t have enough time to perform an extensive online search for every candidate. For high level positions, such as head chef or management, restaurants should perform a search before their interview. But regular employees don’t need more than a quick check before a final hiring offer is made. This saves time, while still giving you the opportunity to double check a candidate’s qualifications and personality.

Trusting Your Research

Remember that the Internet encompasses the entire world, and search results for a candidate’s name are likely to include links that point not just to your candidate, but to the many others that share their name. It’s also important to remember that not all sources of information are reliable enough to use for hiring decisions.

“There are no fact-checkers policing the Internet,” warns labor lawyer Tracy Moon. “An employer could be removing the most qualified applicant from hiring consideration based on inaccurate or false information.” What’s the best way to find information you can trust?

  • Look up candidates by email. On Facebook and other social media sites, you can find a user’s profile by searching with an email address. Use the one your candidate shared on their application to make sure you’re assessing the right profile.
  • Do a reality check. Compare what you’ve found online with what you see on the candidate’s application and other hiring materials. A candidate that seems to have a criminal past in Illinois, but has lived in Texas for 20 years is probably not the same person.
  • Check with references. If you’ve asked for references, bring up concerns that you may have revealed in your online search. A good reference can confirm or deny whether it’s true.

Avoiding Discrimination

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.39.18 PM

Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on:

  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • sex (including pregnancy)
  • national origin
  • age (40 or older)
  • disability
  • and genetic information

You may not plan to find personal information online that could be discriminatory, but it can be hard to avoid if a candidate lists things like their religion or disability in an online profile. In fact, it’s very difficult not to reveal protected information when searching online. Labor lawyer Tracy Moon says that even if hiring managers don’t take the information into account when making employment decisions, simply having knowledge of it can be a liability in defending discrimination claims.

“In defending discrimination claims alleging wrongful failure to hire, the most fool-proof defense is to show that the employer did not know that the applicant fit into one of the protected categories that was allegedly unlawfully considered, leading to a rejection,” says Moon. “If an HR professional knows some particular fact about an applicant obtained through an Internet search, such as his or her race, national origin, age, affliction with a progressively disabling disease, leadership in a recovering addicts support or advocacy group, church or political affiliation or sexual preference, the employer may be faced with having to “prove the negative”– i.e., demonstrate that their hiring decision was not based on that particular factor learned from the Internet search, which is always a difficult thing to do.”

The best way to avoid this liability is to separate hiring decisions and screenings. Hiring managers can interview, speak with recruiters, and handle all aspects of employment, short of doing online screenings, and have a research assistant screen candidates online. This assistant should not be responsible for making hiring decisions, but simply report on useful research while avoiding sharing protected information.

“It is risky to come into possession of knowledge upon which the law says you cannot base a hiring decision,” says Moon. If you do not ask for it and do not acquire it, you can make a persuasive case that you did not rely on it. If you possess the information, however, you may have to try to persuade a government agency, judge, or jury that it played no role in your hiring decision.”

Protecting Candidate Privacy

Public profiles are fair game, but any job seeker that’s taken steps to make their online life private should have that privacy respected. Restricted profiles or protected tweets send a clear message that candidates don’t want to share what they’ve said, good or bad. There are certainly ways to get around private profiles, but it’s best to avoid the temptation to peek into restricted areas, as it’s a breach of trust, and may even be in violation of the law.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.39.25 PM

Use only publicly accessible information in your candidate research. Remember that it’s also inappropriate, and possibly illegal, to ask candidates to share any login information with you.

Research Fairness and Consistency

Any action that’s a part of your hiring process must be performed fairly and consistently for all candidates. That means if you’re Googling a hostess applicant, all other front of the house staff should be researched online as well, and at a similar level. To be fair, your research and hiring process must be consistent for all candidates, or you risk major liability. “If Internet searches are conducted on one applicant for a particular job, Internet searches for all applicants being considered for the position must be conducted to avoid claims of discriminatory hiring,” explains labor lawyer Tracy Moon.

Avoiding this liability is as easy as creating a consistent policy for online research that’s followed for every candidate.

  • When you should research a candidate, and any conditions or circumstances that call for an online assessment.
  • Give an opportunity to independently assess information before making hiring decisions based on what you’ve found.
  • Use more than online research to understand more about candidates, including reference checks.
  • Be able to prove that information you’ve made hiring decisions on is accurate and factual.
  • Retain researched information as hiring records in accordance with federal law.

Developing Research Records

According to federal law, employers must retain records collected during the hiring process. An employment application is common for restaurants, but did you realize that online research is also considered to be a record? The EEOC requires that employers retain any records that are a part of hiring decisions. Labor lawyer Tracy Moon advises that employers retain search information for at least one year, as required by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Using What You’ve Found Online

What can you do with online candidate research? Assuming the candidate hasn’t shown any red flags that might require immediate dismissal, there’s still plenty to be done with the information you’ve found online.

  • Address what you’ve found: If you have any concerns, come clean and let candidates know that you’ve done online research and have a few questions. Don’t be afraid to ask about what you need to know. For example, you might be curious about why an applicant left a particular job off of their application work history.
  • Apply what you know in employee training: For employees who may need a little help with communication or customer service, be sure to make this a focus of their training.
  • Use information for promotion decisions: If you know that a new employee has great interpersonal skills, consider earmarking them for future management positions.

 

Key takeaways:

92% of U.S. companies use social media to recruit and screen candidates

 

Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular tools for candidate research:

  • 65% of employers search on Facebook
  • 63% of employers search on LinkedIn
  • Other popular sources are Google+ and Twitter

 

Hiring managers often find red flags, and 34% have dismissed candidates based on what they’ve found, including:

  • questionable ethics
  • extreme opinions
  • crude language and inappropriate content
  • negative news stories
  • poor communication skills
  • drinking or using drugs
  • badmouthing of previous employers, coworkers, or clients
  • lying about qualifications
  • a lack of information online

 

29% of hiring managers have made an offer based on candidate screening information, including:

  • professionalism
  • professional organization memberships
  • active, complete online profiles
  • resume consistency
  • positive connections with employers and colleagues
  • demonstration of passion
  • good communication skills
  • organizational fit
  • industry connections and references

 

Do:

  • Research candidates before hiring
  • Look for positive indicators like effective communication and professionalism
  • Watch for red flags like profanity and poor recommendations
  • Create a research policy for consistency
  • Confirm identity and information accuracy
  • Retain research records according to federal law
  • Respect candidate privacy boundaries
  • Use researched information to learn more about candidates, facilitate interview discussions, and test candidate honesty
  • Make online research part of a broad screening, including calling references and performing formal background checks

 

Don’t:

  • Believe everything you find online: independently validate information
  • Allow hiring decision makers to research candidates: they may be exposed to EEOC-protected information
  • Focus solely on negative research: online screening can reveal positive signs, too
  • Use hacking, caching, or alternative logins to access private accounts
  • Require candidates to share logins
  • Be embarrassed to discuss your research: candidates often expect you’ll screen online

 

Sources:

http://recruiting.jobvite.com/company/press-releases/2012/jobvite-social-recruiting-survey-2012/

http://www.careerbuilder.com/JobPoster/Resources/page.aspx?pagever=2012SocialMedia&template=none

http://www.eeoc.gov/employers/

Recruiters: Bruce Hurwitz, Megan McCann, Amy Edwards

Labor lawyer: Tracy Moon

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

More