How Will Your Online Profile Affect Potential Job Offers?
Billy created his profile on Facebook.com when he was 18. Now 20, he accumulated a good amount of material—typical college musings and photos—that his friends might enjoy but others might view differently. His mother, who worked in a college career services office, heard stories about the perils of having questionable public information public information and warned Billy about the material on his online profile.
As he started his internship search, Billy heeded his mothers advice to limit access to his profile to just his friends. Shortly after, he got the call he had been waiting for. A state agency wanted to interview him for an internship. Billy prepared for the interview and reviewed the types of questions that could be asked. He was ready, as ready as he could be.
But, during the interview, something Billy had not prepared for happened. The interviewer began asking specific questions about the content on his Facebook.com profile and the situation became very awkward and uncomfortable. Billy had thought only those he allowed to access his profile would be able to do so. But, the interviewer explained that as a state agency, recruiters accessed his Facebook.com account under the auspices of the Patriot Act. stuf
Fortunately, Billy had previous working relationships with a few members in the office and knew a staff member there. He was offered, and accepted, the internship. Still, this true story is an example of what can happen in the gray area surrounding public information and how it fits into the practice of information gathering during college recruiting.
Exactly who is looking at your online profile on social networking sites like Facebook.com or MySpace.com? Theres no way to be sure, and therein lies the problem.
More than one-quarter (26.9 percent) of the employers reported that they have Googled candidates or reviewed job applicant profiles on social networking sites, according to a recent poll conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Among employers who reported doing this type of online research, only 7.4 percent said that it was standard practice and that they conduct such a check on all or most of their job candidates. The largest group—41.2 percent—said they Google/check online profiles occasionally, while just over a third (35.3 percent) characterized their use of this practice as infrequent. A few—2.9 percent—reported that they Google/check social networking sites only for some positions.
The remaining respondents (13.2 percent) gave other responses. In some of these other cases, respondents noted that they don't engage in this practice for new college graduates, but that they Google experienced candidates to verify publications or gauge how active they have been in their field. Others indicated that they use this practice not to check up on candidates but rather to source them. One respondent noted that they search blogs and other sites to see what is being said about their organization.
The prevalence of teenagers and young adults who use social networking sites is astounding, and the practice has become a cultural phenomenon. Recently, MySpace.com surpassed Yahoo Mail and the home pages for MSNs Hotmail, Google, and Yahoo to become the most-visited web site in the United States.
According to Facebook.com, the web site has grown to over 7.5 million people and ranks as the seventh-most trafficked site in the United States.
And then Facebook.com describes the typical visitor to the site: People with a valid e-mail address from a supported college, high school, or company can register for Facebook and create a profile to share information, photos, and interests with their friends.
But job seekers should remember: it's not just friends who view these profiles.
Those Internet environments are marketed heavily as social networks, says Ken Rogers, senior management recruiter at Trader Publishing. They tend to disarm users in ways to make them believe that the information they post will just be shared by the user's circle of friends. In fact, they are no different than any other space on the Internet. The reality is it goes beyond the intention. It's public, and there is a false sense of security surrounding these sites perpetuated by the environment itself.
MySpace.com, for instance, invites visitors to Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals, and interests with your growing network of mutual friends! Even though MySpace.com says in this invitation on it's About page that the communities are private, in a separate area of the site—one titled Safety Tips —MySpace.com warns, Don't forget that your profile and MySpace forums are public spaces. Don't post anything you wouldn't want the world to know (e.g., your phone number, address, IM screen name, or specific whereabouts). Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you, such as where you hang out every day after school.
In other words, there are inherent risks involved in posting your personal information for the world to see. Of course, these risks extend far beyond a missed internship or job opportunity. But in the context of a job search, the results of information getting into the hands of those it's not intended to reach can be devastating. Be aware that the pictures, blogs, and journal entries posted on the web are public information could have a profound effect on your search for employment.
Many students don't understand the ramifications of posting questionable materials; even if it's intended for friends to see, it can be available to anyone with Internet access.
People derive impressions [of you] relative to their interaction with [you], says Alan Goodman, director of career services at The Catholic University of America. A friend might think what [you] post is cute or funny. An employer, meanwhile, might think it's arrogant, immature, unprofessional, or any number of negative things. I think the possibility of losing out on a job because of information posted by a student online exists, especially when there's strong competition for a position.
For example, an employer could decide that the finalists for a position look equal, but the information posted on one of their Facebook.com pages leaves a bad impression, and the employer could decide to eliminate that candidate from consideration.
According to Rogers, students still need to take advantage of every access restriction available to them.
[You] need to be diligent about that, he says. Anyone can register to get access to the site. They can register under false pretenses or under best intentions, but this step gives students a false sense of security in that they believe they are only sharing space with like minds and with people who wouldn't betray them.
Even for students who do take every precaution to post information that can't haunt them in any way, cracks remain.
Another flaw in the system is if you are in a photo that someone else posts with your name attached to it, you will still come up in a search, says Rosemary Hill, director of engineering career services at The Ohio State University.
Rogers recommends that for students creating or updating their online profiles, there is only one way to ensure no one has access to potentially damaging information or pictures.
You shouldn't broadcast or share any information that you wouldn't want to share with your parents, or that you would be ashamed of should it appear on the front page of the newspaper, Rogers says. Follow that and you can't go wrong.