September 10, 2010

FACEBOOK keep it clean


Remember the days when Brittany, Lindsay and Paris were the only ones who had to worry about the world seeing pictures of their risqué partying? Well, thanks to Facebook you now have something in common with the stars.

Forty-five percent of employers check out job applicants online, according to a study by Careerbuilder. This means when you go into an interview, chances are, not only has your potential boss seen your crisp black and white résumé, they may have also seen some scandalous full color photos of you at last weekend’s party. Think this seems a little far-fetched? An “it’ll never happen to me type thing,” perhaps? Well, think again. According to CareerBuilder, over one in three employers have found content online that stopped them from hiring someone (See sidebar “Online Faux Pas That’ll Cost You the Job”)

So how can you protect yourself? Peter Vogt, author of “Career Wisdom for College Students” and the President of Career Planning Resources, stresses the importance of privacy settings. He says many people don’t bother with the Facebook privacy settings or don’t know about them. To adjust them, simply click “Settings” on the top right corner of your Facebook home page, on the settings menu click “Privacy” then choose whom you want to share your information with.

Even with your privacy settings, Vogt warns, potential employers still get some information, and that can be damaging enough. He explains that no matter how private your profile is, employers can still see your profile picture so it’s best to pick a conservative photo.

Some people argue that privacy settings aren’t enough. Ronda Smith is the Director of the School of Arts and Communication at University of Wisconsin—La Crosse and teaches interviewing classes to prepare students for job searches. According to Smith, employers have found ways around privacy settings. Many companies access your profile through interns or other employees who are in your network or share mutual friends with you. Some employers even ask applicants to pull up their profiles during interviews.

Karen Lyon, Vice President Human Resources with Harris Bank, says she also knows employers who accessed private profiles and suggests avoiding anything that looks unprofessional. “A lot of companies have specific core values that they look for when bringing an employee into their organization,” Lyon said. “They want their employees to reflect that corporate image.”

Also, beware of your friends’ posts. Karolyn Bald, Career Service Advisor at University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, explains that often the content friends post on your wall or photos they tag is enough to turn employers off. Vogt agrees with Bald and suggested talking to your friends. Tell them you’re looking for a job so they can’t write anything inappropriate on your wall. Also, be sure to untag compromising photos and ask your friends to remove them.
Despite these negative aspects, social networking sites aren’t all bad. According to CareerBuilder’s study, 18 percent of employers have found positive information online that caused them to hire a person. Examples include creativity, strong communication skills, well roundedness, good references, awards and a professional personality that fits the company.

Lyon said she’d be impressed by someone who’s involved in a lot of social clubs, holds leadership roles and has a good amount of friends. She explains it looks bad if a person has very few friends and makes an employer wonder if the applicant has trouble socializing.

Some companies worry about the legal issues of screening people online. However, Lyon, Vogt, Smith and Bald agreed those worries don’t seem to be stopping employers from online check ups. Vogt explained it would be impossible to prove the employer used your profile.

“I’m not saying any of this is right,” Vogt said. “But in this environment and with the economy in tough shape, employers aren’t willing to take a risk on anyone. If they have a stack of résumés, all they have to do is dig up one funny-looking picture and that’s enough to put that résumé in the no pile.”  

Lyon added that even if you could prove an employer screened you online, there’s not much you can do about it. “These are public sites,” Lyon said. “Once you put it out there, you are putting yourself in a public light and people are responsible for their own profiles.”

Every time you put something online just consider if it’s something you’d be proud to show a future employer. After all, you wouldn’t stumble into a job interview in scandalous clothing, hanging on some guy’s shoulder, with 40 ounces of beer duct taped to your hand, would you?


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