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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13 Responses

  1. Lindsey,

    Thank you for another great post! What is your opinion about tagged Facebook pictures in social settings? For example, I have heard of one place that selected their interns by whether the applicants had pictures of themselves at parties because they wanted someone who would be social. This seems to go against the, “never have a tagged picture of you with alcohol in your hand” rule. Along the same line, if you are of the legal age to drink, would you advise against being tagged with an alcoholic drink (a glass of wine or a bottle of beer) in your hands? I think we know not to have pictures with drugs or nudity but could you define what you would recommend against having on Facebook that might not seem that bad but might actually be bad (aka which types of pictures in social situations would you consider to not be appropriate?). I think this is a question that continues to stress people from my generation and it would be wonderful to have a little checklist from you. Thank you!


    1. @Allison – great question. As you mention, there are some situations where a tagged photo in a social situation is not a problem at all. This is why you have to use good judgment and common sense. A photo with champagne at your wedding is a fine. A keg stand is usually not. Two pieces of guidance: 1) When in doubt, untag yourself — better to be safe than sorry. 2) Ask some people in your industry what is appropriate as different fields have different approaches to this topic. For instance, in the legal or accounting industries you should probably err on the side of caution. If you work for a fashion magazine or beer distributor, different rules probably apply. Good luck!

  2. I completely agree. And, what’s even worse is that people have been saying this for the longest time. Why is that still people don’t understand putting pictures of some seriously questionable behavior could result in some serious consequences. I mean come on, its public.

    1. @Jobnab- You ask a great question: Why are people still posting questionable material? There are a lot of contributing factors that need to be addressed. Thanks for your comment.

  3. It always amazes me to see a handful of my own Facebook friends posting the most offensive status updates and serious partying pics–to think some of them even have their boss on their friend list! Not that their boss should have control over what they post online, but to my mind, it smacks of unprofessionalism to share such material.

    1. @Eleanor- You’re not alone! It still amazes a lot of people out there that people post what they do. And this brings up another question as to why people continue to behave this way. Where and how are professional expectations being defined and by then, is it too late? Thanks for sharing.

  4. Also a good idea in cleaning up your online profile is to remove your resume from career classified sites when you have a new job. You don’t want your new employer finding your resume on a site like that a month after you started the new job, they might get the wrong idea.

  5. Hey Lindsey,

    This is a significant development for early stage college students. I completely agree that they are likely to be the most common offenders when it comes to inappropriate material (especially since most are still under age.) Though this group of students (freshmen and sophomores) are getting recruited more and more for intern programs. These students will have to be particularly diligent in managing their web brand. We’ll try and make sure they keep an eye on blogs like yours so they are in the know on this growing issue!


  6. It’s also important to note that it’s in a bad idea on a hiring team’s part to simply use google or facebook to look up a job candidate. They’d more than likely expose themselves to the candidate’s age, ethnicity, and possibly lifestyle choices that the hiring team is legally barred from using in a hiring decision.

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