Candidates should make sure that they know what information is online about them. Here is an interesting article about that from the Des Moines Business Record.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Looking deeper online
By Jason Hancockjasonhancock@bpcdm.com
His job search wasn’t going well, and Tien Nguyen, 22, couldn’t understand why. His credentials were good – he was a senior at UCLA studying mathematics and economics, his resume was in order and his references where top notch. So why were companies ignoring him?
For six months he tried to secure a job for after graduation with little luck in getting callbacks from the scores of companies he submitted his resume to. It was then that a friend suggested he do a Google search on his name, and what he found was shocking. On the first results page was a link to a tongue in cheek article he had written a year earlier on how to cheat the system to make employers have a better impression of you and how to get away with it.
“Overall, it was simply for humor,” Nguyen said. “But if one were to Google for my name, the article would be one of the first ones to come up, creating a question mark as to the morality of my character.”
Nguyen pulled the article from the Web and a week later two companies called for interviews. He has since been hired at a Fortune 500 company where he will start in the Fall.
This all could be a huge coincidence, he said, but saying the article could have affected his chances of landing a job isn’t an outrageous assumption.
Welcome to the world of Internet social networking, a place where many young people feel they can let their hair down and connect with their peers.
Problem is, the Internet is available to everyone, including those whose job it is to dig up dirt on prospective employees.
Online social networking sites such as MySpace.com, LiveJournal.com, Xanga.com and the college oriented Facebook.com have attracted millions of people, including young professionals and college graduates looking for their first jobs. Some post elaborate multimedia productions about their lives, ranging from photos taken at parties to recaps of their dating experiences to musing about daily annoyances. But as students begin sending out resumes and preparing for interviews, some job recruiters say what they have online may come back to haunt them.
A survey conducted by executive job-search agency ExecuNet found that 77 percent of recruiters use Web searches as part of their applicant screening process, up from 75 percent last year. The big increase was in those recruiters who said they have eliminated candidates based on information they found online, jumping from 25 percent last year to 36 percent this year, said Dave Opton, CEO of ExecuNet.
Among the reasons recruiters cited for eliminating candidates were misstated academic credentials and “weird personal habits.”
“If it’s out there, and if they’re really looking for it, they can find it,” Opton said. Larry Hanneman, director of engineering career services at Iowa State University, said he has begun hearing a lot about this, and career services departments at every school are taking it seriously.
“It’s clearly becoming an issue,” he said. “And students seem completely oblivious to the problem.”
Hanneman said at a recent conference of career service directors at Big 12 Conference schools, there was a lot of discussion about this topic. He said his department will spend the summer looking into the matter and hopes to have a program in place by the fall to educate students on possible problems with personal Web sites.
Kevin J. Hardy, assistant director of business career services at Iowa State, said though he has no firsthand experience with ISU students losing job opportunities due to online content, he has heard of it happening. That’s why he has begun advising students to clean up anything they may have posted online.
“I always tell them, ‘If you’re not willing to share it with your grandmother, then it shouldn’t be online,’” he said. Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, the largest national employment site for recent university graduates, said he feels online snooping by recruiters is still in its early stages, with most companies unaware that sites like MySpace and Facebook even exist.
“Right now, there hasn’t been much harm,” Rothberg said. “I’ve heard a lot of hearsay, a lot of third-person accounts, but nothing solid that points to a specific case. But, having said that, I’m also sure it has happened and is happening."
An online community
Many are calling Facebook the most controversial site to hit college campuses since Napster. What differentiates it from sites like Friendster and MySpace is that it’s primarily for academia. Until recently, only those with a valid university or high school e-mail address could register for and have access to the site. This includes students, alumni, faculty and staff, although the vast majority of Facebook’s users are students. The idea behind the site was to build online communities at each school where students can easily find those with similar interests. However, on April 26, Facebook allowed people with select corporate e-mail accounts to become members. As of May, 10, 1,855 companies were registered with the site.
Chris Hughes, Facebook spokesman, said there are 22,741 registered users at Iowa State University, with another 3,856 at Drake University and 1,386 at Simpson College. Users must have a valid .edu e-mail address to be allowed into the site to view profiles, and only profiles from their university are accessible. Because of the restricted access to the site, students can feel less inhibited about posting personal information on Facebook than on most other online venues. But that level of comfort can work against them, Hardy said, once an alumnus goes to work for a company.“It really isn’t all that difficult,” he said. “Three years ago, everyone was talking about companies using Google to look into potential hires. Now, they just ask an intern from that school to look them up on Facebook.”
Hughes disagrees, saying the likelihood of a potential employer having access to an undergraduate’s profile is very low.
“Several factors would have to line up to make it possible,” Hughes said. “The employer would have to be a graduate of that particular school that the interviewee is attending. Secondly, that particular school would have to distribute .edu e-mail addresses to its alumni, which is not the standard at most universities at this point. Finally, the individual would have to configure his or her privacy settings to specifically make the profile available to alumni.”
The student sets his or her privacy settings to restrict access to their profile, such as limiting access to friends or friends of friends, Hughes said. But most students are unaware that this may even be an issue, Rothberg said, so they may not think to adjust privacy settings.“
Students are inexperienced,” he said. “They think employers are only doing background checks through previous employers or references. But employers are increasingly going beyond the four corners of a resume to seek out information on a candidate.”
Breach of ethics?
Rothberg said several of his clients have asked questions about these sites and whether they should use them to screen applicants.“
Generally, the information on those sites is not directly career related,” he said. “It is their personal life, not their professional life. Plus, I think there are huge potential dangers in using those sites for this purpose.”
Federal and state law prohibits a company from considering factors such as race, age or gender in hiring decision
s. However the law sets few limits on glancing at an applicant’s personal Web site if they find it because the site is considered a form of self-disclosure and in the public domain. This leads many to believe that companies can use personal Web sites to eliminate a potential hire based on factors it can’t gain through the typical process, such as a candidate’s religion or sexual orientation.“
I could easily see potential lawsuits, from either a job candidate or from the site itself,” Rothberg said. “I also could see a company’s reputation being severely damaged if word got out that they were eliminating job applicants by using social networking sites.”
Rothberg questions whether recruiters have the right to base hiring decisions on personal information they find online and hopes sites like Facebook and MySpace will make cyber-snooping a violation of their terms of service.Not everyone shares this opinion. “It’s absolutely essential and perfectly appropriate,” Hanneman said. “If a person is going to be representing a company, there is nothing wrong with that company looking to see if the person has conducted themselves inappropriately. It’s a painful lesson for students, but it isn’t unethical.”
Hardy said the information is public, which means a company has every right to look it.“If you put it out there, and they find it, then that is your fault, not their’s,” he said. Hughes said no students’ information should ever be displayed to an employer unless the students themselves want to share the information.
But the debate on the ethics of this practice doesn’t mean it isn’t already taking place.“It’s irrelevant whether it’s right or wrong,” Opton said. “They’re doing it anyway.”
Opton said these seemingly harmless sites reflect character and values, which are indispensable for corporate recruiters in determining if a candidate will fit with their company. Nguyen said he believes the practice is absolutely ethical, and if a company has the opportunity to avoid potential trouble in the workplace, then it is a valuable tool.
Words of caution“I think of social networking sites much like a tattoo,” Rothberg said. “It seems like a good idea at the time, but you have to live with it for the rest of your life.”
He said the best advice he can give to students utilizing these sites is to keep information you wouldn’t want in the hands of potential employers off the Web.
“If you don’t want an employer to see that you like to get drunk or that you stress out about time deadlines, then don’t post them online,” Rothberg said. Most echo that advice.“Before you send it out there for the world to see, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable if your mother saw it, or if it was on the front page of your local newspaper,” Opton said. “That in and of itself will save you a lot of problems down the road.”Hardy said though there are dangers, sites like Facebook and MySpace are wonderful networking tools that have a lot of value.Rothberg agrees, saying he is a huge fan of these sites.“I have this wonderful idyllic vision of a freshman arriving on campus not knowing a soul,” he said. “Then, they get on Facebook, and within minutes they find a student three dorm rooms down with similar interests. I think it makes a campus smaller and friendlier, and that is fantastic.”
Nguyen’s experience did not deter him from venturing into the online world. In fact, it inspired him. Along with a friend, Nguyen started Bruinpied.com, a site to document the trials and tribulations of the “MySpace generation” as they enter corporate America, and they are recruiting other writers to contribute their insights about the transitional period between college and the workplace.
Bruinpied (the combination of his school’s mascot and a mathematical ratio) is a term they coined to define their experiences. It means “Not being hired by a company because of controversial material you or someone else published on the Internet,” Nguyen said.
His only advice to others is that though it is perfectly fine to have a personal Web site, keep the personal details to a minimum.
“Be sure not to attach any sort of personal information such as your full name or e-mail address that you may use to send resumes and cover letters to potential employers,” he said. “At most, you might want to use a personal moniker that only you and your friends recognize and that a stranger who’s never met you before will have no way to attach your identity.”