Employers are definitely looking at your Facebook
A story went viral a few weeks back. It involved a new starter mistakenly taking to Facebook to complain about the start date. You may have seen it, she, in no uncertain terms, boldly claimed that she didn't want to start work the next day with a spattering of four-letter words. Her would-be employer promptly reassured her she wouldn't be starting the next day after all.
This is an extreme example of the massive paranoia graduate job hunters have about their online presence. Graduates are very worried about what their Facebook profiles say about them and what employers will think when they stumble across the album marked Malia '11. And their paranoia is partially founded. A CareerBuilder survey found that 37% of employers were stalking applicants on their Facebook profiles in an attempt to learn more about them.
So what are you supposed to do? Scrub the presence from the internet and become a digital un-person or submit your presence to the observance of Big Brother?
There may be the temptation to go with the option of totally scrubbing yourself off not just Facebook but Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and so on, but there is a drawback to this. Graduate employers know, like everyone, that pretty much everyone has a Facebook or similar account. The thing is just unavoidable, and if you think you've outsmarted employers by trying to hide your profile there's always the risk it could still be discovered. Any absence of a presence is likely to be viewed as odd.
What can I hide?
Facebook, despite a dodgy track record of privacy, gives users a range of options to test when they are looking at hiding their presence from prying eyes. It gives you the opportunity to hide your posts, your profile and to remove any links from search engines to your site. Clamping down on these initial clues for employers will help hide your profile, but don't be surprised if they don't still manage to get you.
The problem is that while you might take all the steps to hide your profile you will never know if employers have found you or not. But you would be shocked to learn how critical employers can be. They mainly use your profile to make judgments on you and will be very picky when it comes to something as banal as your Facebook page.
In terms of what you can hide, you need to have a little poke around your privacy settings section of your profile. Facebook is quite good with this approach with giving you the eye-opening option viewing your profile as someone else. It is worth spending time having a look over this part and adjusting your settings to suit you.
The two most important sections to pay attention to when reviewing your settings are "Who can see my stuff?" and "Who can look me up?". These are the tools employers and recruitment teams will be using to track you down and check you out. Things such as tracking you down using the email address you used in your applications or the phone number you provided might be the ways they hunt you down.
As for what they can see, it would obviously be wise to keep it to "need to know" basis. Your Facebook profile is for your friends and you. Employers are not too interested in where you went for dinner at the weekend, but their motives are much more cynical than that.
You do have the option to "Limit Old Posts". This setting comes with a fair amount of warnings for something that can't be undone. But my commitment to this blog and to you has forced me to take this step. It limits everything from your past so you can view the minimum of your photos for those out of your friendship circle. This may be a recommended move for graduates concerned about their potentially embarrassing pictures from that holiday.
If you are still unsure about what you can see with your profile, Facebook has provided a tool to allow you to see what people will see if they stumble across your profile. This might be slightly concerning as it will show you how much can be viewed by the outer world. Obviously this might be too late for those who have gone whole-hog with the Limit Old Posts.
For a more comprehensive guide for the approaches to privacy by Facebook, they have produced this handy guide. I would hate to feed your paranoia about this matter, but it is worth checking out. Employers are going to look at your profiles and this is especially true at small companies, so taking steps to make sure this doesn't shoot you in the foot is wise.
Tidy it up
Facebook can be the go-to avenue to vent your spleen about a range of issues, trivial or not. This is not exactly the place to do it and making it online and readily available. Calling your current boss a tosser on Facebook is not going to do anything for your current employment and will certainly impress prospective employers either.
This is also an opportunity to tidy up your typing. If you're uploading statuses using the type of language we used to use to text with in our early teens employers are going to think you're a little thick, kk?
An anecdote: a friend of mine who works in recruitment has told me in confidence that stalking of people online is absolutely rife in the field. While this is only anecdotal evidence, it's not too far of a jump to think that with a prying culture that graduate job hunters are getting checked out on the regular. One specific candidate was highlighted as an example who had their Twitter profile stalked.
She was, in fact, a rabid 1Der, I believe they are called. She was found to be Tweeting the band members on a regular basis, wishing them a great day and to sleep well. Let's put it this way, she wasn't continued in the application process.
The Return of Malia '11
Obviously there is nothing wrong with having your holiday snaps online. Facebook has become the perfect portal for sharing these without having to sit people down and bore their ears off by showing them the returns from Max Spielmann. But now the ghost of the week in Crete has returned. While we were all young once, that photo of you looking a bit vommy and the victim of the "Mate-in-a-state" photo probably shouldn't be in public domain.
This is the point of much of Facebook, is that the evidence that can be drawn from your Facebook profile will not be the reason you are given for not getting the job, but still might be the reason. Employers may find something in your profile that would put them off.
There is an overarching moral issue that you might cite. Of course there should be and needs to be a separation between your work life and the life you choose to lead outside of office hours. However, Facebook has breached this gap and the hyper-personal has allowed your personal/private life to be viewed by all.
Of course this is voluntary however, nothing is on your Facebook without your approval or at least passive permission. This further limits your options and points in the direction of closing down your profile altogether. But then that looks suspicious and employers are concerned that you don't have Facebook because of some tin-foil-hat reasons. Which because of this blog are totally justified!
This is really entirely up to you. Whether your life isn't outrageous enough or you have a lot of skeletons have to hide, this is a balance to strike and you have to choose where. Do you risk employers finding that picture of you after the fishbowl in Malia? Or are you happy to be a complete online un-person and the suspicion that might follow that.
You decide, but big brother is watching you...
By James Howell