If You're Applying for a Job, Censor Your Facebook Page

A new CareerBuilder survey reveals that prospective employers use social networks more than ever to check out job applicants—45% of them—and they use Facebook more than LinkedIn. What's even more interesting is how they're using personal info to reject your applications.

social networkingLast year a similar survey showed that only 22% of employers were using social networking info to screen job applicants, and the explosive growth in this figure parallels the rise to fame of Facebook and Twitter and the rest, and the fact that it takes a while for the latest social meme to filter its way into typical corporate thinking. But that last point is where the survey data gets incredibly interesting—while you may be well up on the usual habits, norms and joys of social networking, your prospective employer really really isn't. And of those employers who did surf the social 'Nets, 35% reported rejecting a candidate thanks to data they found there.

Look at these stats as to the reasons why, and how many of the employers acted on such data:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photos or info—53%
  • Drinking or drug use—44%
  • Bad-mouthing previous employee, colleague or client—35%
  • Poor communication skills—29%
  • Discriminatory comments—26%
  • Lied about qualifications—24%
  • Leaked confidential info from previous job—20%

The drug use, leaking info and lying...okay, I can understand. But if you step back and think about the others, they're absolutely shocking. If you're using a social network, it's to share aspects of your private life. And if you're applying for a high-profile, public-exposed job, then perhaps behaving yourself outside of work will reflect better on your day job. But who would've thought that a photo of you sinking a beer with your mates in a bar (that possibly you didn't even upload) could prejudice an employer against you? And who said that you have to use correct, well punctuated writing on your Facebook profile? Don't even get me started about how wooly the definition of "inappropriate" can be: Does a photo of yourself sunbathing in a bikini count? Possibly, to some overly-stuffy employer.

It gets worse when you look at reasons why a social profile helped a company actually choose an employee: 38% of employers said it was because the candidate was creative, 35% was thanks to "solid communications skills" and 33% was because it made candidates look "well rounded."

The upshot of this data is that there are three ways you can deal with your online data if you're applying for a job:

1. Delete everything, or completely hide your Facebook profile from public view—and impress your employer the traditional way, at interview.

2. Edit your blog, Facebook or MySpace page so that it covers a broad portion of your life (so you look well rounded) and write wittily and compellingly (so you look creative, and a good communicator). Then censor the rest of it to remove pictures of you having too much fun, using spiky or rude language or excessive abbreviations and even clean up comments made by other people on your page, if they could make you look bad. Basically do a heavy-handed PR job, and cover up all your blemishes.

3. This one is tricky, but more interesting: Don't apply to a company that looks at your social network profile to determine your worthiness. Would you invite your employer out with you to a bar, or take them on holiday with you? Nope, but that's what having them sniff through your social network parallels. Everyone's a person, and everyone is fallible. Social networking is typically about interacting with friends, expressing your joys as well as your frustrations, successes as well as failures, and most of it is on an informal basis (LinkedIn being a little different, admittedly). This stuff is just not your employer's business. It's "Work to live," remember...not "Live to Work."

Here's the full press release, which has lots more fascinating data:

Forty-five Percent of Employers Use Social Networking Sites to Research Job Candidates, CareerBuilder Survey Finds

Career Expert Provides DOs and DON'Ts for Job Seekers on Social Networking

CHICAGO, August 19, 2009 - As social networking grows increasingly pervasive, more employers are utilizing these sites to screen potential employees. Forty-five percent of employers reported in a recent CareerBuilder survey that they use social networking sites to research job candidates, a big jump from 22 percent last year. Another 11 percent plan to start using social networking sites for screening. More than 2,600 hiring managers participated in the survey, which was completed in June 2009.

Of those who conduct online searches/background checks of job candidates, 29 percent use Facebook, 26 percent use LinkedIn and 21 percent use MySpace. One-in-ten (11 percent) search blogs while 7 percent follow candidates on Twitter.

The top industries most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines include those that specialize in technology and sensitive information: Information Technology (63 percent) and Professional & Business Services (53 percent).

Why Employers Disregarded Candidates After Screening Online

Job seekers are cautioned to be mindful of the information they post online and how they communicate directly with employers. Thirty-five percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate. The top examples cited include:

  • Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information - 53 percent
  • Candidate posted content about them drinking or using drugs - 44 percent
  • Candidate bad-mouthed their previous employer, co-workers or clients - 35 percent
  • Candidate showed poor communication skills - 29 percent
  • Candidate made discriminatory comments - 26 percent
  • Candidate lied about qualifications - 24 percent
  • Candidate shared confidential information from previous employer - 20 percent

Fourteen percent of employers have disregarded a candidate because the candidate sent a message using an emoticon such as a smiley face while 16 percent dismissed a candidate for using text language such as GR8 (great) in an e-mail or job application.

Why Employers Hired Candidates After Screening Online

Job seekers are also encouraged to leverage social media When advertising their skills and experience. Eighteen percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them to hire the candidate. The top examples include:


  • Profile provided a good feel for the candidate's personality and fit - 50 percent
  • Profile supported candidate's professional qualifications - 39 percent
  • Candidate was creative - 38 percent
  • Candidate showed solid communication skills - 35 percent
  • Candidate was well-rounded - 33 percent
  • Other people posted good references about the candidate - 19 percent
  • Candidate received awards and accolades - 15 percent

"Social networking is a great way to make connections with potential job opportunities and promote your personal brand across the Internet," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. "Make sure you are using this resource to your advantage by conveying a professional image and underscoring your qualifications."

Haefner recommends the following DOs and DON'Ts to keep a positive image online:

1)DO clean up digital dirt BEFORE you begin your job search. Remove any photos, content and links that can work against you in an employer's eyes.

2)DO consider creating your own professional group on sites like Facebook or BrightFuse.com to establish relationships with thought leaders, recruiters and potential referrals.

3)DO keep gripes offline. Keep the content focused on the positive, whether that relates to professional or personal information. Makes sure to highlight specific accomplishments inside and outside of work.

4)DON'T forget others can see your friends, so be selective about who you accept as friends. Monitor comments made by others. Consider using the "block comments" feature or setting your profile to "private" so only designated friends can view it.

5)DON'Tmention your job search if you're still employed.

Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder.com between May 22 and June 10, 2009 among 2,667 hiring managers and human resource professionals (employed full-time; not self-employed; with at least significant involvement in hiring decisions; non- government) ages 18 and over. With a pure probability sample of 2,667 one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/- 1.9 percentage points. Sampling error for data from sub-samples is higher and varies.

[CareerBuilder via Yahoo Finance]

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  • regimeoftruth

    The opinions I express and the language I use online are and will always be a slightly freer version of the me you get in real life. Some companies don't want people who exercise their freedom of speech online working for them, but I don't work for fascists, as a rule. If you are a potential employer reading this comment, and you don't like this point of view, feel free to let me know that's why you're reluctant to hire me so I can save you some time considering it. If you are a government employee considering not hiring me as a government employee for this reason, then I'll see you in court.

  • roger jansen

    i think its your own responsiblity how you give yourself out on the net. a lot of people are jerks or do stuff they normally wouldn`t do online because they feel safe. just be yourself, if the employer doesn`t like what he sees then, maybee the job wasnt for you anyway.
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  • vassily` haakon

    Facebook is most at fault by not letting you delete and by posting your "frind" pic for anyone to see. Because thet(Facebook) is still thinking web 0.5 not web 2.0 they do not understand or don't care that your job chances may hinge on privacy.

  • Richie AutoTweet

    I agree that companies searching for positive and creative people is a good reason for reviewing online facebooks pages. But to use personal activates to judge work activity seems intuitively wrong. As for negative commentary, the best solution is not to write anything online that you would not feel comfortable sharing with your parents or a minister.

    Richie AutoTweet @ http://www.autotweet.info/

  • Todd Randolph

    [yawn] facebook gets singled out a lot in this type of article, probably because it is most heavily used by the college-aged population who are looking for their first post-graduate position. dings to fast company for jumping on the bandwagon, but kudos too for printing more of the report than just the scary headlines.

    the commenter who warned that trying to 'privatize' your facebook information is fruitless is correct, to an extent. if someone really truly wants to access your information, they will. think of it like a bicycle lock. that lock isn't going to stop a professional thief who wants your ride, but does that mean you shouldn't bother to lock it? in the case of most background checks, using the service's privacy settings let you decide who sees what - including photos of you on other users's pages!

    on the other hand, those commenters who advised doing a full lockdown on your profile exaggerate, as well. how you represent yourself on facebook and other social media tools can hurt you, yes - but it can help you even more. especially in the current job market, a demonstrated knowledge of the social media world can help put you ahead of other job candidates without those skills. a solid linkedin profile is great - but prospective employers want an idea of how you will fit in with the company. a look at your more personal social media outlets, like facebook or flickr, can provide exactly that.

    I wrote about this idea of leveraging your personal profile this week in my blog http://bit.ly/ImNV7. there also some useful how to posts on using facebook's privacy settings. express yourself - just remember you've got the edit switch!

    Todd Randolph
    inapropos communications

  • Thejesse331

    you need to capitalize letters and not yawn online if you want to get hired

  • Patrick Aievoli

    As a tenured academic in Higher Ed and a practicing professional I can see why HR would review these sites. Young people have always wanted to have fun while in college but usually it wasn't broadcast to the world. Now with everything being available instantly they need to re-consider what they are doing. This new, new economy is not playing around. I tell my students to constantly "work harder" because you are now competing against the world for a job. Companies will outsource in a second if it helps the bottom line. There is no loyalty in business. It all comes done to money.
    Today with the cost of an education at an all time high it behooves the student to treat it as a privilege and not a rite of passage. They need to realize that these are serious times and every action has a re-action. They need to be focused on achieving their goals. They can have fun but not to excess. And we are living in a time of excess. Mounting debt, credit card, student loan, mortgages...,etc. Is it easy to blame the media, yes. It is right to blame the media, partially. I teach media and a friend of mine who is a psychologist agrees with me. When our heroes are telling this generation that success is all about "getting the money, the cars and the girls" repeatedly in song and video it penetrates very deeply. It is not a single occurrence it is the essence of the media's message today. It takes a very mature young person to see that hard work brings about success. It is especially difficult when they see "pop icons" being arrested, shooting each other, telling them respect is about "puttting a cap in yo' ass". All the while the media moguls live behind the scenes in gated communities and sending their children to private schools so they don't come in contact with this element. A new feudal system is being born, but to quote the "Who" - Here comes the new boss - same as the old boss". It is very tough to fight a 24/7/365 onslaught of media imagery that has become totally irresponsible. I love media and what it brings but once you put ratings over morales everything falls apart. Cronkite's death was a turning point - thank goodness for Jon Stewart. A comedian maybe but much more a satirist. We are in difficult times.
    It is a shame but it is one we brought about on ourselves. We need to refocus and find the way out of this mess, like a hangover from a frat party. The only problem is you got your final exam in five minutes. Better sober up and try to focus on your future.

  • Michelle Chun-Hoon

    These days nothing is private online. If an employer really wants to see your Facebook page- they can. It is that simple. It does not matter if you block them from seeing certain photos, if you deleted those photos, etc. The best way to keep your profile under control is to never let it get out of control. Always monitor what is going on with your profile. Let friends know you don't want inappropriate pictures up and write things you wouldn't mind your boss reading. It may sound like a pain in the butt to monitor you Facebook and Twitter- it's your personal life after all right? BUT it will be a bigger pain in the butt if you can't land a job because of it!

  • Alex Yamane

    It's not just about Facebook and other walled garden social media sites, it's everything on the web that you ever put out there.. comments, photos when you were a teen, etc. All it takes is a Google or Bing dig and one name confusion and you can get discredited. I say it's best to pre-emptively have a page of all the stuff that's out there on a web page that SEOs well when someone google's your name, and has all the stuff you care to worry about people finding in one place. You guys ever see this site Repio? http://rep.io/ it's in beta so it's free.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Alphonse. No one said FB wasn't useful, and people have in many cases found jobs by using Twitter and Facebook. This piece is more exploring the dubiously grey area of private life vs. corporate nosiness, which most definitely goes on.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Loraine. Hmmm... where's the "fun" in the lifestyle your advice outlines? Or are letting go, having fun and going a little crazy just bad things, period? One's life is one's life--living all of it as if you're being marked for an exam is just daft, or so it sounds to me.
    @Simon. Good point :)
    @Marc. True, for Facebook and Myspace... but not so easy for a blog. There're also some very dodgy employers out there who've been asking for people's log in codes.

  • Marc Everett

    simple solution: keep your profile blocked from the public at all times.

  • Simon Swallow

    What would happen if they were to look at all their existing staff through the same lense that they are applying above. I hope that staff turnover is not too high in these companies (although I expect that it is as no one would be having any fun) as they will run out of people to hire in the next two years.

    It does go to show that you should create a great LinkedIn profile and SEO optimise it so that it comes up first in search engine results so they never even get to your facebook page. See the following presentation on how to do this... http://www.slideshare.net/glob...

  • Loraine Antrim

    This really speaks to our personal brands on and off line. Sadly, many businesspeople don't monitor their personal brand online and find that when a prospective employer Googles them, quite a bit of dirty brand laundry gets aired.

    It's much more than monitoring and cleaning up Facebook entries. Our entire lives are now made public: everything from where we live, our phone numbers, our charitable contributions, and our rants and raves. There should be a constant voice in the back of our head saying, "Almost everything about you can be found online." Stay clean, sober and sane on and offline. Your personal brand and your career will thank you.
    Loraine Antrim, Co-founding Partner
    Core Ideas Communication
    "We Create Smartmouths®"