Jun11200910:20 am

The potential trap that could be social networking (!), ctd.

We all know that everything on the Internets is fair game. It’s becoming more and more common for a potential employer to Google you to see if they can uncover anything (especially something unseemly or unsightly) that didn’t come across in the interview. So it falls on you, the interviewee, to make sure your social networking sites are scrubbed of anything dubious and/or set at the highest levels of privacy.

The anecdotal evidence I’ve heard of employers Googling potential employees is all pretty low key, though—just simple searches that, if they don’t lead to anything juicy right away, are usually over as quickly as they started. If you privatized your Facebook page to keep non-friends out, most employers aren’t going to go the trouble to find a way in. True, I’ve heard stories of more high level trickery, of employers going on the sly and looking for alternate ways into your digital profile (like NFL teams creating fake Facebook profiles in order to research potential draft picks), but I’d never heard of anything like this happening in normal life. Until recently.

A friend of mine was in for a few interviews at a market research firm. After her first interview, she received a Facebook friend request from a person who’s name she knew (a high school classmate, she thought) so she accepted. After visiting her new “friend’s” page, however, she realized that this actually wasn’t the person from high school she thought it was. A little digging and she realized it was a person who worked at the company with which she was interviewing and who happened to have the same name as her high school classmate (an odd coincidence, for sure, though their shared name is quite common). Her new Facebook friend was not someone involved with her interview process and actually worked in a different department in the company. He had, however, gone to the same university as her and thus was a member of that school’s Facebook network. So it became clear that her interviewers had asked their colleague to friend her through their shared alma mater network in the hopes that she would (blindly) accept based on that shared school allegiance.

Once she realized what was going on, my friend did a quick scan of her profile for anything dubious—for the most part everything was fine, she thought (a normal, active Facebook page). She figured she was good to go.

Her next thought, though, was, “Maybe I should scrub my page of everything, just to be sure.” But she concluded this wasn’t necessarily a good idea either: “I don’t want to seem too protective or not social,” she said. “It’s a weird line to walk.” A very interesting point. While we don’t want anything embarrassing or disreputable on our Facebook pages for potential employers to see, an argument can also be made that we should strive to seem “normally active” on our pages. What I mean is: as a younger, networked generation moves into positions of greater responsibility, and thus become the ones hiring, it might become important to ensure your Facebook page looks like a “normally active” one—as in, you are active on your page but not obsessively active; you have the typical playful Facebook banter on your wall but nothing too playful (or offensive or odd); you’ve posted some social-looking photos but none showing you passed out in a gutter. It will perhaps become important to think about not just what your Facebook page doesn’t contain, but what it does as well.

As my friend mentioned, Facebook is no longer just a time suck between friends—now it’s also both a public indication of who you are in your personal life and a self-marketing tool, if you want it to be. So while I would say it’s far better to completely hide your Facebook page from the world than give your employers access to embarassing information, it might also be worth considering how you can use your Facebook page to your advantage.

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3 Responses to “The potential trap that could be social networking (!), ctd.”

  1. G says:

    I think a good rule of thumb is to not accept the friend requests of people you don’t know, even if they did go to the same school you did or if you have friends in common. On Facebook, at least. I tend to be less concerned when people I don’t know want to connect on LinkedIn. I’ll usually accept.

  2. Frank says:

    Interesting thoughts. Given that you can use a Facebook page to your advantage, would you say a person without a Facebook page is at a disadvantage? Or is that equivalent in your book to hiding your page from the world?

  3. Mark Overmann Mark Overmann says:

    Frank,
    I don’t think not having a Facebook page puts you at any sort of disadvantage in your job hunt or career building. I think you’re right—not having one is more or less the equivalent of hiding it from the world.

    My point centers more around the idea that, if you have a Facebook page already (which many, many of us do), you might want to begin considering how it could be used to your advantage. This advantage would come in subtle ways—you probably aren’t going to be posting your resume on Facebook or searching for professional contacts like you would on LinkedIn*. Rather, as a Facebook savvy generation moves its way into management positions, these people are probably going to be more inclined to see a job applicant’s Facebook page not just as a way to uncover dirt or inappropriate pictures, but also as a glimpse into who that person is in his daily life. For better or for worse, Facebook is the online portrayal of who we are and how we live our lives.

    So my thought simply was, if we want to make a good online first impression to a potential supervisor, we might want to think more strategically about what we are showing on our Facebook pages (and not just we aren’t).

    *I think LinkedIn is an important tool and that you do put yourself at a career-building disadvantage if you don’t have a full profile there.

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