April 18, 2006

Future employers may consider Facebook profiles

Students should not be surprised if during their next job interview, questions about their Facebook pictures or wall postings come up in conversation. Career services officials at schools nationwide have raised concerns that employers are using social networking web sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Livejournal to weed out candidates.

Facebook, which is open to all University alumni, allows employers access to students’ profiles at their alma maters, said Liz Michaels, director of Career and Planning Services (CAPS).

Many students use their profiles freely, detailing their weekend party plans, exposing biases, and posting compromising pictures. Some students who choose not to restrict access to their pages have met unexpected consequences.

According to an article in Rolling Stone, underage students from North Carolina State University and Northern Kentucky University were disciplined when members of the administration found pictures of them drinking on their Facebook pages.

John Brown University, a Christian college in Arkansas, expelled student Michael Guinn after authorities discovered through his Facebook page that he is gay.

Michaels cautioned about the risks of posting potentially damaging information on the Web.

“While employers have long been able to complete a Google search of someone’s name, the content on these sites tend to be much more damaging,” she said. “Students should assume that whatever is on the Web will be there for a very long time and will come up when anyone, including a future employer, searches for them.”

The issue concerns career counselors at other universities, as well.

“While very few employers I speak with talk about using these sites as a regular part of the recruiting process, I imagine that alumni who may be part of recruiting teams may look at the sites to get an idea of the students they are interviewing,” said Nicole Snyder, associate director for Recruitment and Employer Relations Office of Career Services at Princeton University.

Snyder said that such resources could be useful for employers.

“On one hand, it can allow a potential employer to get a sense of who you are beyond the résumé, and if an employer wishes to gain more information about an applicant and the information is available to them, I think it’s a reasonable expectation that they will consider it,” Snyder said.

Social networking websites have also become a large part of the graduate admissions process.

“It is not uncommon for law school admissions recruiters to subscribe, along with applicants, to admissions-oriented bulletin boards,” said Lou Tremante, senior advisor in the College and pre-law advisor. “I also know that candidates sometimes post things to these lists.”

For many graduate programs, the candidate’s character plays an important role in the application process.

“A component of the law school admissions process, and certainly bar admissions, is an assessment of an applicant’s character,” Tremante said. “Who wants to have to explain, five years down the road, something that they posted online to 10,000 of their closest friends?”

Others doubt the role of social network sites in the application process. Ann Perry, assistant dean of admissions at the U of C Law School, said that she had never used such sites during the admissions process and would not consider such a policy useful.

“Online bulletin boards are often anonymous, so it would be hard to know who is posting what material; though even if it could be tracked, that information can sometimes be misleading,” Perry said.

In general, Perry suggested that students use their discretion when posting since “the Internet is open to everyone and anyone to look at.”

Tremante had a word of caution for students in the habit of posting an embarrassing picture, a humiliating quote, or a fun fact.

“It is wise for everyone, including applicants to law school, to invoke the ‘what would my mother think’ rule before pressing send,” he said.

Some students were shocked that Facebook would be used this way but understand what such resources can add for employers determining an applicant’s character.

“It is frankly almost disturbing to think that something like Facebook or Livejournal could affect someone’s chances at getting a job,” said Anthony Serritella, a fourth-year in the College who participated in recruiting efforts in the fall. “Nonetheless, if I were an employer I would be curious what a person’s profile looked like before I interviewed them.”