Can Your Social Networking Kill Your Job Prospects?

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Author Lori Andrews warns job seekers of the dangers of social networking now that potential employers are watching their every move onlineBy Lori Andrews
Author of I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did

A few years ago, a 24-year-old friend was hunting for a job. But every time I got a news feed on Facebook from her, it said that she was playing Mafia Wars. I tried to convince her that employers care about her people’s online selves, but she had the mistaken idea that everything she did on the Internet was private. I started collecting studies and court cases that showed employers peeked at social network pages when making hiring and firing decisions. Soon I’d collected enough material to write a book.

Here’s my advice for you job applicants out there.

Pay attention to your privacy settings. According to a June 2012 Consumer Reports study, 28 percent of people share their Facebook information beyond just their friends. But your posts and photos could be used against you in the job hunt. Something as simple as “liking” a political campaign on your Facebook page could get you fired—and at least one court has held that “liking” something on Facebook is not protected under the First Amendment. Give your social network page a privacy tune-up.

Be aware of what employers look for on social networks. Employers ruthlessly use social network posts. A study commissioned by Microsoft found that 75 percent of companies require their HR officials to analyze applicants’ online profiles. According to a 2012 CareerBuilders study, one third of hiring managers found information online that caused them not to hire a person. The system is particularly hard on women—dinging them if they are wearing provocative clothing in a photo or holding a drink in their hand.

Think before you tweet. Watch what you say about the interview process. If you say “I think I nailed it” on your Facebook page, the employer might think you are too egotistical or too likely to blab about company secrets. One woman found out the hard way about employer sensitivity. After getting a job offer, she tweeted that she would now have to weigh the fatty paycheck against a possibly boring job. The company read the tweet and withdrew her offer.

If you wait until the job hunt to clean up your social network page, it may be too late. When some people begin their job search, they change their online settings from public to private. But it may be too late. A whole new industry has developed of companies that collect information for people ‘s public social network pages and keep it for at least seven years to prepare reports on job applicants. If you posted an underage drinking photo at age 17 and then privatize your Facebook page at age 23, potential employers will still get a report that you engaged in illegal activity. That was enough for a Los Angeles talent agency to cancel a job interview with a recent college grad.

Become a privacy activist. When some employers started asking applicants for the Facebook passwords in order to learn what the person was really up to, people began to fight back. They went to lawmakers and got a bill introduced in Congress to ban that practice. A law banning it is already on the books in Maryland. Social networks are great places to hang out, connect with friends, learn new skills, and share information. Let’s work to protect them as private places and keep employers out. I’ve started the process with a Social Network Constitution.

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