Yet Another Reason to Clean Up Your Facebook Profile

Over the years I’ve written multiple posts about the importance of cleaning up your online image and, specifically, your Facebook profile.

When I first wrote about this topic in 2007, I found a study by the Ponemon Institute, a privacy think tank, reporting that 35 percent of hiring managers used Google to do online background checks on job candidates, and 23 percent admitted to looking people up on social networking sites. According to the survey, about one-third of those searches led to rejections.

By January 2010, a survey from Microsoft found that a whopping 79 percent of U.S. hiring managers have used the Internet to better assess applicants and 70 percent of employers have rejected a candidate because of information they found about that person online.

Last week things got a little scarier. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission gave approval to a company called Social Intelligence Corp, which keeps files of Facebook users’ posts as part of a background-checking service they offer to their customers for screening job applicants.

This means that even if you delete an embarrassing photo or raunchy wall post, the material could stay in your file for seven years, where a potential employer using Social Intelligence Corp’s services could access it.

Frankly, I’m not surprised we’ve gotten to this point. Social media is such a part of our daily lives that it was only a matter of time before even deleted material could be discovered.

That said, what concerns me about this new development is that it leaves no room for people to make mistakes, which we all do (especially when we’re in high school or college and first using Facebook). Do I think one mildly inappropriate party photo from sophomore year will sink your CEO chances? Probably not. But if your Facebook account is chock full of concerning behavior, comments and images that may hurt your chances of landing a job in the future. The good news is that you can take control of your online presence and avoid this possible fate.

Here are some common sense tips to follow on Facebook (as well as on Twitter, YouTube or any other social networks you use):

  • Adjust your privacy settings. Use all the tools Facebook itself provides to protect your photos, wall posts and other content from public viewing. For a great list of essential privacy settings, check out this privacy guide from Mashable. Remember that Facebook has a tendency to change all the time, so stay on top of changes to their privacy policy and various settings options.
  • Make sure your Facebook profile has a PG-13 rating. Even if you’re super careful with your privacy settings, you never know who might be able to access your account in some way. To be on the safe side, remove any photos of nudity, partial nudity, underage drinking (yes, even if you were in a country at the time with a lower drinking age), drugs or any other illegal behavior. When in doubt, ask yourself: Would I be comfortable if a recruiter (or my grandmother) saw this photo?
  • Be proactive about deleting posts and untagging photos. An employer won’t necessarily distinguish between something you yourself posted and something a friend posted to your profile. Whenever something appears on your profile that could raise a red flag, delete the post or untag yourself from the image.
  • Think twice before updating your status about anything career-related. I’ve seen way, way, way too many status updates from people at all professional levels that bash their jobs, their bosses or work in general. Since most people are connected to at least a few colleagues or clients (and often their bosses, too!), this is never a good idea. Even if you’re not saying anything truly offensive, multiple status updates about how much you hate Mondays, how crummy your workday was or how idiotic your company’s policies are can hurt your career prospects in the future.

I feel a bit like I’ve just given a schoolmarm-ish lecture, but I’ve seen too many people—recent grads in particular—lose really good job opportunities because of information or images they posted online. It breaks my heart every time because this is such an avoidable mistake. So, have fun on social media, but always keep in mind that nothing you post on the World Wide Web is ever really private.




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