Tools such as Linkedin, Facebook, Xing and Goldenline are well-established as first line resources in the armoury for assessing and finding candidates. Media and corporate record databases are also well-known for checking red flags and other potential conflicts of interest. Nevertheless, the rapid pace of change in new publicly-available resources means that regular training and updates on Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) resources and techniques will save time and money in productivity and efficiency, and will add value to the end client.
Cyberspace is growing exponentially, representing a huge opportunity and a challenge, requiring researchers to stay on top of new methods of conducting their research. Understanding how to analyse huge amounts of data to find the ‘needle in the haystack’, or how to navigate the ever-increasing number of resources to cover all bases on a candidate or employee, will provide a competitive advantage in finding new candidates, and in monitoring current staff and subcontractors. Staying ahead of the curve on research methodologies is crucial when assessing red flag issues or monitoring industry trends.
Due to the fast pace of change in the digital world, many of the current best practices are not yet regularly used. A constant review of one’s desktop research methodology is a way to differentiate oneself from the competition, and will in the near future become essential best practice. HR professionals need to understand how algorithms and cookies work on their computers, as significant information may be being missed in the traditional Google search that is often carried out.
Here are some online productivity hacks for HR research:
- Familiarise yourself with other search engines, not just Google. All search engines work based on a proprietary search algorithm, with the most well-known being the Big Three – Google, Yahoo and Bing. While they are all publicly listed companies, each guard their own algorithm carefully as the ‘secret sauce’ behind the success of their firm. Each therefore has different indexing methods will show quite different search results. All can bring up information that is useful in understanding the candidate or employee.
- Understand the different ways of building search strings. Each search engine has different search operators and ways of building search strings. You should familiarise yourself with each one on the relevant Help page, as this will very quickly speed up and improve the search process. Each offers an advanced search option, which helps in further narrowing down search strings, and again helps to improve your research results.
- Clean the cookies on your computer. While most people know what cookies are – that they are used to gather information about the user on a particular computer – most do not realise just how large an impact cookies have on what you see on your screen when conducting research. Cookies hugely influence how the algorithm decides what the user sees on the screen. Cleaning out the cookies will make the search more effective and therefore the online search faster and more objective.
- Understand the basics of the Deep Web. Most people think of the Deep Web as the dark side of the Internet where drug dealers and other criminals congregate. This is a big simplification. The fact is that the Deep Web consists of around 7,500 terabytes, compared to the part of the World Wide Web that is indexed by Google, which comprises around 19 terabytes. Simple mathematics will tell you that a Google Search therefore only picks up 0.03% of the internet, with 99% of the available data being missed. While Google is of course convenient for the layman, a top HR professional will realise that there is a treasure trove of information available for them about particular candidates. Research methods of the dark web are relatively simple, and a short course on using TOR – software for anonymous communication – is something all research teams should do.
- Familiarise yourself with more databases. In Poland there are approximately 50 interesting databases for the HR professional. These include paid-for databases like securities.com, SPG (Wolters Kluwer) and Neurobiz, but there is also a vast array of very useful free databases including social media sites. An HR team should construct a research methodology database and share the resources around the team.
- Think of using a proxy service or VPN. Search results are very location-specific. Using a VPN server prevents the search engine making location assumptions, and therefore also provides cleaner results. Using proxy server does not necessary mean extra cost, as there is now a vast array of free services providing this such as a search engine called DuckDuckGo.
- Use OSINT to do the research for a genuine client-centric approach. Better recruiters understand what their clients are doing. There are increasingly good tools such as Vacancysoft.com which provide real time data on industries and specific companies.
- Understand the limits of OSINT. OSINT will only take you so far. The digital world is not yet a replacement for good old-fashioned human contact. The traditional method has been for a candidate to provide references themselves to a potential employer. Open sources, however, make it very useful and easy to find independent contacts who can provide an impartial reference. This very often sheds more light on the candidate, as hand-picked references by a candidate are likely to be from people who they are close to.
This is a brief introduction to the new era of desktop research. There are many more techniques and methods out there. The days of simply conducting a ‘Google search’ are long gone.