Friday, March 13, 2009

Facebook: The New Reference Check?

Since I’m graduating this year I’ve started to wonder about the idea of employers checking out the Facebook pages of people they want to hire. Since when did social networking sites become a sort of reference check?
At first I wasn't even sure how much I should believe these stories. For one, how can people who are not your friends see your profile? I know sometimes it has to do with what network you’re in, but that it also depends on your privacy settings. I have changed the settings on my pictures to be see by only my friends but I’m not sure if I did that more because I’m worried about potential employers seeing them or because I don’t want some random friend of a friend creeping my pictures. It’s not that there’s anything crazy or obscene in my photos. I drink occasionally, but what university student doesn’t? It’s not like I’m pulling an Old School and have evidence of me streaking through the streets. I think if employees have a problem with me enjoying myself while having a few drinks, there’s probably no point in me looking into that company further because they wouldn’t end up knowing the real me, just because they judged me on my online personality. Students shouldn’t be discriminated against just because they go out drinking on weekends. Now, if there’s a picture of you doing a keg stand while wearing a miniskirt…well you have much bigger problems.
Photos probably aren’t the only things that are being checked out either. How about the people you’re friends with? You may not think there’s anything wrong with your buddy from elementary school but it could turn out that he has since been arrested for doing something Company X doesn’t approve of. They find out that the two of you are “friends” (even though you haven’t talked to him in about six years) and there goes your chance at being hired.
I found a few websites and blogs online that I thought helped me understand this phenomena a little bit more. According to one article, employers first got into Facebook because of market research. I think that makes sense – they want to find out what sorts of things their target demographic is interested in and they use Facebook so it follows that the company will adopt that practice as well.
Facebook isn’t the only thing that employers will use. There’s also a growing practice of employers using Google to check up on you. Do you know what comes up for your name when you Google it? Most likely it’s nothing serious, but you never know what they could find. The only thing that comes up when my name is Googled is my Facebook page and from there you can see what I’m a fan of (television shows, sports teams, bands, and so on) as well as some of my friends.
So, let’s say you want to clean up your profile in case it gets checked by potential employers. First you go through all your pictures, getting rid of any with you in compromising positions. Don’t forget to untag yourself in pictures that other people have posted. Take a look at your friend list as well. Anyone on there that you know has some sort of record and you really don’t care to be associated with? Delete them. Next, take a look at what you have listed as hobbies, quotes, religious beliefs, relationship status, favourite books, television shows, movies, and on and on and on. All these things are very telling about who you are, some things which are not normally given in an interview. Someone could have a particular bias against one religion or another and see that you belong to that religion and decide to not hire you. They’re very sneaky those employers. This is when the question of ethics should definitely come up. How ethical is it for employees to use their network connections on Facebook to check up on those who they want to hire? I’m not sure if I know the answer myself. I think right now it seems extremely underhanded on the part of the employers because a lot of young people aren’t thinking about how they are portrayed on the social networking sites that they belong to. Employers are just trying to see what kind of person they hire – which makes sense, but they shouldn’t use some of the more personal information (like someone’s religion or ethnicity) to make decisions about who to hire.
I don’t think we need to be scared by all these reports but I do think that it doesn’t hurt to take a serious look at what you’re displaying in your profile. Do you really want the whole world knowing everything about you? I sure don’t. Changing your privacy settings and deleting some information doesn’t make you paranoid – it’s just one more thing that these new forms of social media require us to think about.

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