Going Public

You know how most politicians and Hollywood stars mentally evaluate their comments prior to speaking, for fear it will be misconstrued and wind up in the tabloids?

“Yes, but what does this have to do with me, a current or aspiring IT professional?” you may ask.

Well, let’s extend that concept to the average Joe Schmoe, who is highly qualified for an IT position at XYZ Corp. Joe has an elaborate profile on Facebook and does a substantial amount of networking in his spare time.

While catching up with an old friend from high school, Joe unthinkingly posts a few rash comments — interspersed with a couple profanities — about his previous employer on his Facebook page. In addition, some of his uploaded photos depict Joe drinking with a bunch of his buddies at the neighborhood bar.

Unbeknownst to him, Joe’s prospective employer gets wind of this content. Do you think some seemingly harmless posts would lower Joe’s chances of landing the job?

According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder.com, it certainly is probable.

The job-search Web site surveyed a variety of employers and found that 20 percent of companies review candidates’ profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook during the hiring process. Another 9 percent expressed an interest in doing so in the near future.

But here’s where it gets interesting: While the results suggest that 24 percent of employers decided to hire candidates based on their profiles, a whopping 33 percent said they decided not to hire certain candidates after reviewing their online profiles.

Things that were commonly cited as inappropriate content included the use of alcohol or drugs and the posting of provocative photographs.

Of course, there’s no fixed standard for labeling content as inappropriate, and what may be offensive to some would seem tame to others. But before you post, ask yourself — just like a politician or movie star — could this material be used against me?

The same applies to college applicants. According to a Wall Street Journal article, a survey of 500 top colleges revealed that social networking sites play a role in admissions decisions.

Ten percent of admissions officers admitted they evaluate applicants based on their MySpace or Facebook pages. Of those, 25 percent said the sites depicted applicants in a favorable light while 38 percent said their views of the applicants were negatively affected. One recruiter admitted to using the tool to evaluate on-the-fence decisions.

Like job hunters, college applicants are advised against posting profanities, nudity or pictures showing alcohol or drug use and are encouraged to edit their profiles regularly.

I think it boils down to one thing, as one of our CertMag members so aptly pointed out on the discussion forums: Facebook and other Web sites that contain your personal information can either help or hurt you, depending on how vigilant you are about your posts.

Unlike decades ago, gaining access into the personal lives of others has never been easier, especially with search engines such as Google.

All you have to do is type in a person’s name, and chances are you could find out not only what type of work he or she does, but also who the person has dated. After all, how often have you stopped to consider the likely ramifications of the content you were about to post? What you may think of as harmless venting or a means of expressing yourself may come across to others as ranting or a character flaw.

So much for privacy!

In my opinion, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Of course, this doesn’t mean opting out of social networks or shying away from publicizing your opinions. What it would entail is inculcating the habit of evaluating your posts prior to making it public fodder. And maybe alter your privacy settings to prevent lurkers — including prospective colleges and employers — from prying into your personal life.

Now there are those who will argue that the right to share their uncensored thoughts, opinions and pictures trumps all. But the bottom line is it’s not about what’s fair; it’s about what the reality is. What you post could have serious implications, regardless of your intent.

And, after all, it’s cyberspace — not your diary.

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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