Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will Your Facebook Profile Hurt Your Job Search?

Richard Frias, our college intern, weighs in on employers using Facebook profiles as a hiring tool. Let us know your opinion by commenting below!

Recently, I came across an article entitled “Facebook and The Adolescent Brain - The Emerging Employers' Dilemma” by Tom Krieglstein. As a college intern, it got me thinking about my place in the whole employee vs. employer social networking sites debate.

Facebook is an amazing tool. Where else can you learn about internships, post pictures of drunken parties, create a group to rally behind a serious cause, and flirt with a college sweetheart all in one place while listening to music and doing homework? Facebook’s capabilities as a business tool seem to match, if not outweigh, its social uses. However, those pictures and wall posts take on an entirely different meaning when interpreted through the eyes of a potential employer.

Even before I got an internship, I began to understand the dangers of taking Facebook at face value. There have been a number of times when an acquaintance has “friended” me, and I discovered that there was another surprising side to that person. For example, a girl who I had come to know in a classroom setting through group work and projects for my Medieval Literature class became a Facebook friend of mine. Before we became online friends I knew her as a very intelligent and soft-spoken person. She was so conservative that she was one of the few students who dressed in business attire just to attend class! Once we became friends on Facebook, I did what most people do: I browsed through her photo albums and read her profile. Suddenly, my quiet conservatively dressed classmate had turned into a scantily clad clubbing machine. She had chosen to represent herself through photos of nights out and partying.

So, did I judge my classmate and never again listen to her profound interpretations of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales? No. In actuality, her profile was no different than the average college student’s profile or even my own. It just amused and kind of surprised me to see her in this different context. If it weren’t for the group works and projects, I would have wrongfully judged her based solely on her Facebook account. I would have thought that she was a completely different person. Fortunately, I knew that she's more than just her Facebook.

Not understanding that a person is more than just their online profile is the trap that I believe most employers will fall into if they use social networking sites when considering potential employees. Looking at someone’s Facebook profile doesn’t reveal the hidden truth of who he or she really is or how he or she really behaves. It only reveals who a person is outside of a professional setting and inside whatever setting they choose to document. It should be obvious that young employees with raunchy pictures or comments on Facebook will not act rowdy or disrespectful while they work, have meetings, or represent the company. The division between social life and business is nothing new and has always been made clear. Before social networking sites college students were still college students—partying and adventuring. Before social networking sites most of the employers of today were in college and had their own experiences. The only difference is that today there always seems to be someone with a camera at the worst possible times.

However, the real question that Tom Krieglstein asks is should college students and those looking for employment post differently knowing that 60% of employers search the web when considering potential employees? In essence, should we change our online behavior? Although I believe that what I do in my personal life does not reflect my skills as an employee and although I believe that my private life does not represent the company I work for, I would still have to say yes. Knowing that 60% of employers search the web when considering possible employees would change what I post online. Before other students and Facebook advocates start calling me a sellout as they get their electronic pitchforks ready, let me explain. I know that social networking sites say little to nothing about a person’s qualifications. But I also know that the outcries and complaints of students will still not change the fact that a considerable number of companies rely on social networking sites for recruitment.

It is an ugly and unfair reality but first impressions are truly the most important. A long time ago a first impression merely meant a wrinkle-free suit and a firm handshake but today, in this technologically-driven world, first impressions now entail what a person has decided to put on the Internet. No matter what the law says about age, race, and gender, the sometimes unfair and involuntary act of sizing up a stranger during the first encounter cannot be stopped. As a person who is looking for employment I want to make myself as viable and marketable as I possibly can. From the perspective of a potential employee, posting unconscientiously in a social networking site takes away my competitive edge from other prospective employees and closes many opportunities that I would otherwise have had if it wasn’t for a dumb photo. If it means “untagging” myself from incriminating pictures or thinking twice before I post something then so be it. It’s no different than having a more conservative voicemail greeting or email address. You don't have to change your behavior—just your online behavior.

There are many different faces that a person chooses to wear depending on the context or setting. The accessibility of the Internet and social networking sites have seemed to have taken the choice of when and where to show a face out of the hands of many college students. Until employers learn that my social life does not represent my work behavior, I will always make sure to show my best face.


  1. Hey Diane,

    Richard makes some honest, candid thoughts here which is always great to see. I think once someone becomes aware of their digital identity then they have the choice to leverage the power for good and promote all the amazing things they are doing...Kinda like Richard is here with this post. As an employer I'd google him, see this post, and think he pocessess critical thought. Kudos to him!

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