Saving Face on Facebook

by Zach Pitts

Since its creation in 2003, the online social networking site Facebook ( has become a hit among college and high school students. Those who sign up for a free account can list all kinds of information about themselves and even post pictures. The site can be a fun and easy way to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones as well. However, many users are not aware that other people may be accessing this information. Increasingly, employers have been using Facebook as a tool for researching potential job applicants.

Tim DeMello owns Ziggs, an internet site that allows people to create an online business-oriented profile. When asked if he does an Internet search for online profiles when he's deciding which applicants to hire, DeMello replied, "Of course. Everybody does." He estimates that as much as 20% of companies investigate online profiles at some point in the application process (alfonsi, 2006). Warren Ashton, group marketing manager at Microsoft, said researching students through social networking sites is "becoming very much a common suddenly have very public information about almost any candidate" (Finder, 2006).

Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook, argues that although reports of employers using Facebook for research purposes are increasing, it is quite unlikely that the right circumstances exist to allow this to happen.

Several factors would have to line up to make [employers seeing profiles] possible. First, the employer would have to be a graduate of the particular school that the interviewee is attending. Second, that particular school would be able to distribute e-mail, via educational e-mail addresses, to its alumni. Finally, the individual undergrad would have had to configure her privacy settings to specifically make her profile available to alumni. The likelihood that all three of those factors will line up makes the chances of this happening low (Cole, 2006).

It is not necessarily employers themselves who will do the research. Sometimes companies will ask college students working as interns to perform online background checks (Finder, 2006). Carl Martellino is the Career Development Office Director at Pomona College in California. He said that, "Many employers also hire outside search agencies to do these background checks" (Hsiao, 2006). And now that Facebook has been opened up to organizations other than schools, employers have another potential route to view applicants' profiles. The point is clear: if an employer really wants to see your online profile, they will find a way to do it.

Between September 27th and October 3rd 2006, I conducted a face-to-face survey of 30 random MSU students to get their view on the practice of employers researching job applicants with Facebook. Of the total number of participants, 26 had heard of Facebook before the survey, and 18 currently had a Facebook account. Only 9 were aware that employers used Facebook as a research tool. Thirteen respondents said they believed it is wrong for employers to conduct such research. Respondents were asked to state how they feel about this practice on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being "Don't care" and 10 being "Very concerned." The average rating equaled 5.67, with 4 and 6 tied as the most common response. This seems to indicate that although nearly one-third were unaware that employers researched applicants with Facebook, most are still fairly concerned about it.

So what can be done to prevent employers from viewing objectionable content? For one, be cautious about what you put in your profile. A good rule of thumb is not to post text or pictures that you would not want your grandparents to see (Finder, 2006). In my survey, only 7 respondents of the 18 with a Facebook account said they would change their profile knowing employers could view it. The most common items they indicated they would potentially change were pictures, quotes, and groups.

In addition, not only can objectionable content be removed, positive aspects about yourself can be posted in its place to enhance, rather than hinder, the search for internships or employment. Profiles can be used to exhibit career goals or special skills and photos may include important events such as joining honor societies, attending awards banquets, or graduating (Student Affairs Leader, 2006). And if changing your profile seems too conservative or "un-cool," take some time to learn about the privacy features that Facebook has to offer. There are restrictions, which must be turned on manually, to limit who sees your profile. Taking a few minutes to adjust these settings could mean a lifetime of unblemished reputation in your future career.

As those of us in the field of Technical Communication should know by now, you must take your audience into consideration when creating any kind of document or message. Creating an online profile should be no different. When you can't be certain who will see what you post, be certain that what you post is not what you don't want certain people to see.

Works Cited:

Alfonsi, Sharyn. "Employers look at Facebook, too." 20 Jun. 2006. CBS News. 2 Oct. 2006
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Cole, E.R. "Guess who else is reading those Facebook entries?" The Black Collegian. 03 Mar. 2006. 2 Oct. 2006

Finder, Alan. "For some, online persona undermines a résumé." International Herald Tribune. 11 Jun. 2006. 2 Oct. 2006

Hsiao, A. "Employers utilize Facebook to research potential employees." Pomona College. 03 Mar. 2006. 2 Oct. 2006

Student Affairs Leader. "Advise Students to Create Employer-Ready Facebook Profiles." Magna Publications. 01 May 2006. 2 Oct. 2006

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