Two years ago, Brad Karsh ’87, president and founder of JobBound, was waiting for a candidate to arrive for a job interview when he decided to check the potential new hire’s Facebook profile. After looking at the site, Karsh knew the interview was a moot point.
“His first interest was ’smoking blunts with the hommies’…and after that were other things I don’t even want to repeat here,” Karsh said. “He wasn’t the best candidate as it was, but this really pushed him over the edge.”
In the past few years, incidents like this one have become increasingly common. A recent segment on NBC Nightly News stated that approximately 77 percent of employers use search engines to evaluate candidates and about 35 percent of employers have actually eliminated a candidate based on information found on these sites.
“We’re hearing about more and more companies that are running Google searches, Facebook and MySpace searches, and, in some cases, other background checks such as credit history and arrest reports,” said Michael Sciola, director of the Career Resource Center (CRC).
With Facebook opening its doors to more and more users—and users revealing more and more personal information on the site—it is easier than ever for employers to dig up what has now been coined as “digital dirt.” Ellen Eng ’08, who is currently on the job market, finds this trend worrisome.
“I have heard that there are an increasing amount of employers joining the network,” she said. “I find it weird to have people put personal information on [Facebook] especially because a lot more people are allowed to join Facebook now.”
Karsh, whose company helps students prepare for life and work after college, travels around the country advising students about proper business and interviewing etiquette. More frequently, he has told students to be careful about what they post online, as he recognizes that companies like his use Facebook while hiring.
“We always go and try to get as much information as we can on a particular applicant,” Karsh said. “In the old days, we would run background checks…this is just taking that to the next level.”
While future employment may not be on the minds of students snapping digital photos at parties on Fountain Avenue, the drawbacks of sites like Facebook have lately been the source of much media attention. Articles in The New York Times and a recent episode of Dr. Phil both detail the possible perils of being overly revealing on the net.
Karsh, who was featured on the “Dr. Phil” episode, stressed that the issue is not necessarily the morality or acceptability of the content of an applicant’s photos, groups, or interests. The main concern, rather, is the candidate’s willingness to post compromising—or even illegal—activities on the web.
“I’m not telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, but I’m basically looking at your judgment,” Karsh said. “What do you think it’s okay to show on your Facebook profile?”
Sciola echoed Karsh’s sentiment, recalling that he enjoyed a few adventures of his own as a member of a college fraternity. The difference, he explained, is that his fun times are not broadcasted to the world.
“When [my fraternity brothers and I] get together, we laugh at the memories, but it’s contained to my friends,” Sciola said. “These days, students are having just as much fun—you guys aren’t inventing anything new, trust me—but now, you post it to the Internet for all your friends to see and boom, it’s out there.”
Both Sciola and Karsh explained that there are key elements to a particularly worrisome profile, and a couple photos containing red plastic Solo cups are not necessarily of dire concern.
“The truth is, if I look at your profile and I see a picture of you holding a beer, I’m not going to be like, ’Aha! She drinks beer!’” Karsh said. “But then again, if I see something really compromising, I might think twice about you.”
Similarly, Sciola noted that employers usually notice the elements of a profile that are the most blatantly irresponsible or unprofessional.
“I can imagine an album named ’Night of 1000 Bongs’ or ’Multi-Keg Drink-Fest’ or something,” he said. “Total red flag for employers and grad schools.”
While many students might not see the connection between their personal Facebook pages and their ability to properly perform in the workplace, Karsh explained that these two facets of life intersect in numerous ways.
“If you’re applying to work for my company, and I see that one of your interests is smoking marijuana five times a week, that’s your own personal life,” Karsh said. “But what does that say about how you will do at my company? Most likely I don’t want that person working for me.”
As a potential solution to this problem, many students block their Facebook profiles to everyone outside of their particular network. Zach Schechter-Steinberg ’08 explained that he has considered how Facebook could affect his job search after graduation.
“I personally try to remain very aware of what pictures of me are put on Facebook, as well as the things on my account,” Schechter-Steinberg said. “Since it is now easy to block people from outside your network from viewing your profile I think that is a good tactic for students to adopt.”
Many employers, however, have sly ways of getting around the obvious roadblock that a blocked profile presents. One common approach, Karsh explained, is for an employer to ask current workers who are friends with the applicant to pull the desired profile up online. Another method is to simply ask the applicant.
“I’ve heard of employers actually saying to a person while they are interviewing them, ’I tried to check out your Facebook earlier but it was blocked. How about you bring it up now and we can look at it together?’” Karsh said. “Whenever I say this [during a workshop] college students just look completely horrified.”
Sciola advises that students block their profiles not only to outside networks, but also to anyone with whom they are not Facebook friends. He underscored, however, that a student’s ultimate concern should be the actual content of his or her profile.
“Think twice about putting up photos on any social networking site,” he said. “I’m not saying don’t do it, but always ask yourself, ’Am I okay with this being out of my control forever?’ Once it is up there, it’s gone.”
Schechter-Steinberg’s reasoning paralleled Sciola’s.
“I think the responsibility is on students to ensure that nothing potentially incriminating or offensive to employers is on their Facebook account,” he said.
While noting the obvious benefits of sites like Facebook, Karsh too agreed that the issue ultimately comes down to the student’s level of caution and awareness. Revealing potentially compromising information online, he explained, is always a risk.
“If you don’t want employers to see it, don’t put it on the web,” Karsh said. “I’m not going to break into your dorm room and look for dirt about you, but if it’s on the Internet, there’s a good chance I might find it.”