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Guide
8 min read

Tips for Obtaining Accurate and Reliable Online References

Discover effective strategies for verifying online references to make informed hiring decisions, ensuring fairness and compliance. Uphold privacy and professionalism while leveraging online resources to identify top talent for your company's goals.

When companies need to hire new employees, they often want to learn as much as they can about the applicants. These days, one way they do that is by looking at online references - information about the applicants they can find on the internet.

But here's the tricky part: not everything you read online is accurate or reliable. The internet is full of unverified info, opinions that might be biased, and sources that aren't trustworthy. As someone helping with hiring decisions, it's super important that you know how to separate the good online references from the bad ones.

Otherwise, you could end up making hiring choices based on incorrect info, violating laws about privacy and fair hiring practices, or introducing bias into the process.

So, what can you do to make sure the online references you rely on are legitimate and truthful? Here are some tips:

Get Picky About Your Sources

The first step is deciding what counts as a reliable source of online information. Look for references from professional organizations, accredited schools, respected news sites, and other reputations you know you can trust. Steer clear of random blogs, personal rants, or sketchy websites without clear authors.

It's also a good idea to check things like:

  • When the info was published/posted (out-of-date references aren't as useful)
  • If the author is an expert or has proper credentials
  • Whether sources and facts are clearly cited
  • The reason the reference exists (ads, opinions, or objective info)

Have a Systematic Process

Don't just Google an applicant's name and click whatever comes up! Develop a standardized process and checklist for what online references you'll look for and from which specific sources. That way you treat all applicants equally and don't accidentally introduce bias or discrimination into your process.

Your list of approved online references might include the applicant's LinkedIn profile, mentions on their university's website if they're a recent grad, press releases if they've worked at a notable company, and so on. Stick to your predetermined process for every applicant.

Cross-Check Everything

Even if an online reference seems reliable, always cross-check the information across multiple trustworthy sources before considering it factual. Different sources citing the same claims? Much more believable. Just one random source making claims? Be skeptical.

Sometimes you may even need to go a step further and verify details directly with the original source, like a previous employer. Don't just take everything at face value.

Watch Out for Bias

Remember, essentially any information online could be biased by the author's personal opinions, political views, business interests, or other subjective factors. Always think critically about why the reference exists and what perspective it might be pushing.

Ideally, focus on straight facts from neutral sources as much as possible. If an online reference seems swayed by someone's biases or hidden motivations, it's likely not a great thing to base hiring decisions on.

Know the Laws

There are laws you need to follow related to using online info for hiring, especially laws about privacy rights and discrimination. For example, you can't make hiring choices based on details you shouldn't have access to, like someone's age, race, disabilities, or family status.

Make sure you understand all the relevant laws and get guidance from experts when needed. Breaking the rules can get your company in big legal trouble, so it's not something to take lightly.

Develop Your Staff

Having clear policies and guidelines is important, but so is making sure everyone involved in hiring is properly trained. That includes knowing:

  • What counts as an acceptable online reference
  • How to verify info and spot potential inaccuracies
  • Ways to reduce bias and discrimination
  • Rules about data privacy and compliance

With regular staff training on best practices, you'll have a much more consistent and reliable online reference checking process.

The Big Picture

At the end of the day, the goal should be using online references the right way - to get legitimate, factual insights that help you assess applicants' skills and qualifications for the roles. Not to go down online rabbit holes, make decisions based on rumors or opinions, or unfairly judge people on characteristics unrelated to job duties.

Approached responsibly, online references can definitely be a useful tool during hiring. They allow you to go beyond just resumes and interviews to learn about things like applicants' professional accomplishments, abilities, work ethic, personalities and more. 

Just remember to always think critically, verify information, rely only on trustworthy sources, and follow all guidelines for privacy and fairness in the hiring process. With some common sense and the right practices in place, online references can help you find the best new hires to bring into your programs.

The moral of the story? The internet is an amazing resource, but you have to be a smart consumer of online information. Not everything you read or see should be blindly believed - especially when it could lead to bad hiring decisions that hurt your company and discriminate against applicants.

Use online references intelligently as one part of a thorough, ethical vetting process. Get trained on what to look for, what to avoid, and how to comply with laws. Follow protocols consistently for every applicant you evaluate.

If you do all that, online references can enhance your ability to identify top talent to hire at your company. You'll get deeper insights while still upholding fairness, accuracy, and professionalism throughout the recruitment process. That's a win for both your company and the applicants!

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