What happens when the pictures and content you post online for friends to see is also viewed by a potential employer?
The question has become of particular importance in recent years, where photos, profiles, and online commentary are being factored into who gets hired–and fired–in the workforce.
Close to 50% of companies report doing background checks on their candidates by searching through online content, and claim to have not hired candidates based on finding “provocative photographs,” “content about drinking or using drugs,” or even “poor communication skills” demonstrated on their online profiles. For recent college students joining the workplace, this is particularly a problem, because they often have this type of “unprofessional” content on their profiles from their time in school.
Finding this type of content online, says consultant Brad Karsh, makes employers question the applicants’ character:
“A lot of it makes me think, what kind of judgment does this person have? Why are you allowing this to be viewed publicly, effectively, or semipublicly?”
Many students may not even be aware that this content is being factored into their job application process. One student interviewed by The New York Times found that, unbeknownst to him, the info he had up on the web was alienating him from potential employers. After not hearing back from any of the jobs he applied to, he followed his friend’s suggestion to Google himself, and realized that a satirical essay he wrote years before called “Lying All The Way To The Top” appeared under his name, and was possibly keeping employers from returning his inquiries. After taking it down, he says, he started getting offers.
Interestingly, this student didn’t think employers would factor in something like an old essay he’d posted on the web into his eligibility as a job candidate:
“I never really considered that employers would do something like (search for me online)” he said. “I thought they would just look at your résumé and grades.”.
Professional networking site Ziggs.com CEO Tom Demello says that students may never know this information affected their eligibility — they just won’t get a call back. And for those who assume they’re safe as long as their profiles are set to private, think again, he says. “Whatever you post on the web…it’s public. There’s a reason it’s called the “world wide web”:
Employers often find ways to access the sites, either by creating a profile from the company, or by using other employees in the same university networks to look up applicants. Sometimes, depending on your privacy settings, images and content are available simply by Googling your name.
And what you share online remains a liability even after you’re hired for a job. The Wall Street Journal reported about a woman who vented on Facebook about her dissatisfaction with work life, posting in her status: “OMG I HATE MY JOB!” Her boss’s status response? “You also seem to have forgotten that you have 2 weeks left on your 6 month trial period. Don’t bother coming in tomorrow..and yes, I’m serious.”
Is it ethical for employers to evaluate potential or current employees based on the information they present online?
One student I interviewed disagreed that employers should be able to use this information in the job search:
“I don’t think it’s fair for employers to look at personal profiles to judge their applicants. The information on those profiles has no bearing on how the person will do in their job, and it’s a violation of that person’s privacy to factor in their personal lives into whether they can do the work. People put pictures up for their friends to see, not to reflect on how they will do their job.”
A contributor to Business Week’s “Debate Room” blog echoed some of these views:
Job seekers already have to contend with background screens, drug tests, credit checks, and verification of employment history, education, and income. Is adding an ideological litmus test of an online identity really necessary? What should companies care about more, the professional skills and merit of an employee or what her favorite beer is?
But others believe that information posted online is fair game to be considered. Another student I asked said,
“It clearly reflects on a person’s judgment and character if there are pictures of them drinking at parties, or saying inappropriate things on their profile. It would also reflect on that company as well to have an employee with that sort of information online. People should expect to be held responsible for their online presence because your profile reflects on who you are as a person and the types of decisions you make. And that’s fair game for an employer to know.”
To me, this issue brings up a broader question of what’s “private” and “public” in the age of the internet. It’s interesting that the first student said that people post their pictures “for their friends to see” but not to be viewed by someone like an employer. I wonder, can this distinction be made? Can one expect anything posted on the web to remain “private” in this way? Perhaps a shift in thinking in order — an acknowledgement that social networking sites are not only a social venue for people to connect and share interests, but also a public or semi-public forum where the information one shares is subject to be evaluated in a variety of capacities by those, including employers, who can access it online.
I think Tom Demello (interviewed in the video above) is right that the current generation of social networkers aren’t truly aware of how what we post online is going to impact us. Are we all too comfortable sharing, and only going to learn the hard way — by not getting a job, for example — to be more careful about what we post online? Will our approach to social networking shift as we get older, and the information we have posted trails us into our futures?
Is it ethical for potential employers to factor in content from Facebook and Myspace profiles when hiring potential employees?
Do you think about your ‘digital footprint’, and how the information you are posting now might affect you in the future?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Want some tips on how to keep your information private on Facebook? Check out this article.
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