If you’ve ever spent an afternoon as a nature photographer (or seen one on TV), you know that it requires a lot of patience. When you see the wild gazelle, you can’t just go running and screaming after him and expect to get the shot. There are a lot of similarities between being a nature photographer and being an employer searching for cleared talent. The secret squirrel candidate may be similarly elusive, which means your typical tricks for finding candidates online simply won’t work. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth using all of the tools in your arsenal – it just means you’ve got to tread carefully if you don’t want to scare away the best. Here are a few tips for – politely- using social media tools to vet those secret squirrels.

1. Keep it positive.

Candidates expect to be ‘Googled’ before they reach an interview.There’s no expectation of privacy when it comes to something that’s posted on the web. As an employer, however, you literally have someone’s livelihood in your hands. Keep that in mind as you search out information. Nicholas Smith, CEO of Geo Owl, a geospatial systems and IT networking company, describes it well.

When we search applicants online we’re looking for the good stuff, not trying to catch them doing something they shouldn’t, he said. He noted that it goes without saying that employers will be looking to see what an applicant has said or posted online. Those searches are just one part of Geo Owl’s ‘whole person’ hiring strategy, which seeks to make a great hire based on not just skills, but personality and compatibility with the existing team.

When it comes to online monitoring, attitude matters. If you plan to find something negative, you probably will. Consider how what you discover online can reinforce the positive, rather than just searching for reasons to rule a candidate out.

2. Beware Cases of Mistaken Identity.

Any time you’re searching a candidate online, it’s important to beware cases of mistaken identity. Commercial background investigations have been known to find incorrect information and disqualify the wrong candidate. And even if you find a seemingly legitimate profile for a candidate online, keep in mind how easy it is to create fake profiles on publicly facing social media sites like LinkedIn. Overseas intelligence agents have been known to lift names, photos and other profile data to create fake profiles for data mining operations.

3. Let the Online Search Fit the Job.

The security clearance process has already vetted the candidate on the government’s criteria. Make sure any additional social media checks you do fit your criteria. If you’re looking to fill an IT role with a candidate who isn’t customer facing, you may be less concerned when a candidate lacks the online polish or has a few uncouth pictures posted. If you’re hiring within human resources or marketing, however, those argumentative and expletive laden social media posts and pics may be more of a problem.

4. No news is good news.

We call these candidates secret squirrels for a reason – they’re elusive and private. Many security-cleared candidates have been trained over the years to have no online presence at all. For commercial sector work it may be a no-brainer that every candidate has a LinkedIn profile. For a security-conscious cleared candidate, you may only find them networking on a secure, password-protected site such as ClearanceJobs.

5. Give the chance for a rebuttal.

Just as a candidate who is denied a security clearance is given a chance to state their case, give a qualified candidate the chance to rebut before you discard him or her based on an online search. The information may be inaccurate, or it may be mitigated.

Searching for secret squirrels can be harder than finding a purple squirrel in a crowded forest. It’s smart to use social tools as a part of your job search. Make sure your candidate searches are done in light of the unique – and secretive – nature of those elusive secret squirrels, however.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer

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