“Private eyes, they’re watching you, they’re watching your every move . . .”

I don’t even particularly like Hall and Oates, but the song popped into my head as soon as I started reading Jennifer Preston’s article last week in the New York Times about a new investigative tool for employersSocial Intelligence is the name of a new company offering a niche service for employers in pre-hire screening.  The company scours the internet for information about prospective employees while purportedly blocking information that employers want to avoid based on an employer’s defined search characteristics.

Why wouldn’t an employer just run its own Google search for free?  Good thought – potentially bad result.  If an employer runs a search on Google and starts randomly looking at the results, they might discover a potential employee was pregnant or that the person has a particular religious affiliation.  The prospective employer could then subconsciously discriminate against the candidate.  Social Intelligence says they can avoid that risk by sanitizing the results so that employers are only provided information that would not be perceived as discriminatory.

The company may be on to something.  Employers have been beaten about the head by their lawyers not to ask certain questions in an interview.  I often have clients ask whether they can inquire about a particular subject in an inteview.  To their surprise I tell them they can ask anything they want – as long as they consider the consequences.  If you ask someone if they are pregnant and you don’t give them the job, or even if you do, they might later claim that you discriminated against them.  It is about assessing the risk of the questions.  If you are prepared to accept the risk, you can ask the question.

If Social Intelligence can help employers manage that risk where they otherwise could not, it is a good value to business owners.