Social media sites are handy for learning more about applicants than their resumes reveal, but beware the legal pitfalls.

Dear Annie: I read your recent post on using social media sites to find a job, and I wonder if you can answer a question from the hiring side. I’m staffing up a new brand-management team at my company. The HR department is doing most of the initial screening, but I’ve also been Googling candidates and looking them up on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn just to get a clearer sense of what they’re like before they come in for interviews.

My boss saw me doing this and suggested I speak with someone in our legal department about it. He didn’t say why, and I didn’t ask, but now I’m curious. Do I really have to get legal involved? As a rule I’d rather not, but what will I be missing if I don’t? —Wondering in Washington, D.C.

Dear Wondering: Your boss has a point. Although 77% of hiring managers now use social media sites to check out job candidates, according to a recent poll by executive career site ExecuNet, the practice comes with a few legal risks that you’d be smart to keep in mind.

One pitfall has to do with the concept of “disparate impact.” To avoid the appearance of racial discrimination, the pool of candidates who can apply for a job should be made up of a mix of ethnic groups that roughly reflects the workforce as a whole. Relying too heavily on social media sites makes this difficult.

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