Social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter have allowed people to share their lives in a manner that has never been possible before. Facebook alone has more than 200 million members, and with hundreds of thousands of people signing on and joining these sites every day the whole world is literally just a friendship request away.
On Myspace you can “friend” strangers and discover new musical talents like so many did with singers Sean Kingston and Lily Allen. On Facebook, you can post pictures from a night of partying and in 140 characters or less you can offer condensed thoughts and impressions to a galaxy of “friends.” But in this new space of uber communications, your imprints on the world could come back to haunt you.
A growing number of hiring managers are now looking at the social networking profiles of potential candidates as another means to determine whether a person is right for the company position.
“It’s been interesting to watch this trend,” says Lauryn Franzoni, vice president and executive editor of executive recruiting firm ExecuNet’s Center for Executive Careers.
According to Franzoni, 44% of the recruiters say they have eliminated a candidate because of information they found on the internet; this is an increase from 26% of recruiters in 2005. “Prior to these social networks, it was hard to get objective references,” says Marsha Haygood, the founder and president of the career and personal development consultancy StepWise L.L.C.
She notes that, more than anything, employers want to get a better idea of a candidate’s personality, or their brand – and if the candidate will fit in with the company’s over all brand. “Anything that is out there, know that it is accessible and that it can be used to judge you,” says Haygood. Suggestive photos, any allusions to criminal activity or drug use and even negative social comments and your selection of friends can rule a candidate out.
Desiree Littlejohn, a graduate bioethics student at Union Graduate College-Mount Sinai School of Medicine will matriculate this June and is currently in the midst of a job search. She also has a Facebook profile. “I am aware that hiring managers look at the social networking profiles of potential candidates,” says Littlejohn.
“Electronic records and profiles are readily available and companies are taking advantage of the information.” Although Littlejohn feels that social networking sites are for leisure and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, she knows and understands the rules of engagement and behaves accordingly. “My profile is always is set as a private profile; my friends are the only people who can access my information. Also, I do not respond to queries or comments [where] I do not know the sender.”
Setting the privacy settings on your profile so that only people you know can view it is only the first step in making sure that your virtual presence won’t hinder your job search. But Franzoni suggest creating a positive online presence by joining professional networks like LinkedIn and conducting a Google search of your name every couple of months. Haygood suggest going a step further by creating a Google alert for your name so that in the event that something is posted about you an email update will be sent to you. “It’s important that everyone remember that what is online is always going to be there,” says Franzoni. “You have to keep in mind that a few moments of misjudgment can result in a lifetime of explanation.”