Social Networking Can Be Perilous to Your Employment

Social networking is all the rage nowadays. Everyone wants to create their own web presence on sites like MySpace, Tagworld or Facebook. Few social networkers realize that whatever information they chose to put on these sites becomes open to public scrutiny. The risk of having your postings viewed by unknown parties is great.

A recent study found that employment recruiters are getting into the act on a regular basis. They are constantly searching social networks in an effort to expand their candidate profiles. According to the executive search firm ExecuNet, about four out of five recruiters regularly run web searches to screen job applicants. This means that many job candidates can expect their application to undergo an Internet screening. About one in three job seekers have been eliminated from consideration based on information the hiring company has discovered on social networking websites.

So you think you are cool by posting your drinking exploits or sexual conquests, think again. A potential employer might be searching for that very information. It might make you popular with all your friends, but none of them will be corporate recruiters. This practice is fast becoming an additional tool used to make a choice between several prospective applicants. Once an employer finds your social network profile postings, the damage is done. Negative information is viewed with a cold shoulder no matter how well qualified you might be in other areas.

For example, a Fortune 500 recruiter was having a difficult time deciding between two well-qualified candidates. She searched the web and discovered that one of the potential hires had a profile listed on MySpace. There was a photo of the applicant lounging in a bikini. Her interests were listed as ‘having a good time’ and her sex as ‘yes, please.’ Needless to say, she was not the kind of “material” the company was looking for. Another time, the same recruiter found racial slurs and jokes posted on a candidate’s social network site. Comments like these will earn you no points in the corporate world.

The fact is that personal information, including opinions, is readily available to anyone looking for it. Long before the interview process starts, your social networking site may be providing that all-important “first impression.” Since the shelf-life of Internet content is virtually endless, it is important to manage your on-line image. Whether or not your are job searching, the implications for trouble down the road should be addressed.

Take for example the experience of a young woman hired as a management consultant. Having moved from Ohio to California, she created a web profile on MySpace in the hopes of meeting new people. She was conservative with the information she posted. She had listed her interests as biking and water sports. Over the next few months, she meet several people with similar interests. One Friday, she decided to call in sick and go surfing with a few of her new pals. A few days later, unknown to her, one of her “surfer” friends posted some pictures of Friday’s events on her profile page. It just so happened that her boss was checking up on her daughter and came across the dated photos on the woman’s site. It was an embarrassing situation as the woman learned an important lesson. Social networking can be a small world and you have little control over the information you put on the Internet.

Not every employer uses these tactics. But you can bet the practice will continue to escalate. It would be prudent to protect your image right from the start. Here are a few pointers to consider when creating on-line profiles used for social networking:

1. Be aware that nothing is private. Do not post anything that a prospective employer might consider derogatory. This includes provocative photos, obscene language, or lewd jokes. Anything that is questionable will be a reflection on your character.

2. If possible, consider creating a private social networking profile. Some sites allow you to be discreet in limiting who can visit your site. You can make it so that only your chosen friends can view your site. For posted comments that are negative, use the blocking feature. Keep in mind that most everything is archived and often difficult to erase.

3. Check your profiles often for negative information. Then do a regular Internet search to locate any on-line records that have information about you. If you discover something that is negative or derogatory, find out how to have it removed. Anything that could be used by an employer now or in the future should be taken off the Internet. The best practice is to be prepared since you never know who might be trying to dig up some “dirty” info on you.

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