Don't get too outrageous online -- employers surf the Web, too
Alan Finder, New York Times
Sunday, June 11, 2006
When a small consulting company in Chicago was looking to hire a summer intern this month, the company's president went online to check on a promising candidate who had just graduated from the University of Illinois.
At Facebook, a popular social networking Web site, the executive found the candidate's Web page with this description of his interests: "smokin' blunts" (cigars hollowed out and stuffed with marijuana), shooting people and obsessive sex, all described in vivid slang.
It did not matter that the student was clearly posturing. He was done.
"A lot of it makes me think, 'What kind of judgment does this person have?' " said the company president, Brad Karsh.
Many companies that recruit on college campuses have been using search engines like Google and Yahoo to conduct background checks on seniors looking for their first job. And now, college career counselors and other experts say, some recruiters are looking up applicants on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and Friendster, where students often post risque photographs and provocative comments about drinking, drug use and sexual exploits.
Viewed by corporate recruiters or admissions officials at graduate and professional schools, such pages can make students look immature and unprofessional, at best.
"It's a growing phenomenon," said Michael Sciola, director of the career resource center at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. "There are lots of employers that google. Now they've taken the next step."
At New York University, recruiters from about 30 companies told career counselors they were looking at the sites, said Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of the university's center for career development.
"The term they've used over and over is 'red flags,' " Steinfeld said. " 'Is there something about their lifestyle that we might find questionable or that we might find goes against the core values of our corporation?' "
Facebook and MySpace are only 2 years old but have attracted millions of young participants who mingle online by sharing biographical and other information, often intended to show how funny, cool and even outrageous they are.
Concerns have been raised about these and other Internet sites, from their potential misuse by stalkers to students exposing their own misbehavior -- for example, by posting photographs of hazing by sports teams. Add to the list of unintended consequences the new hurdles for the job search.
Ana Homayoun, who runs Green Ivy Educational Consulting in Los Altos, visited Duke University this spring for an alumni weekend and planned to interview a promising job applicant.
Curious about the candidate, she went to her page on Facebook -- and found explicit photographs and commentary about the student's sexual escapades, drinking and pot smoking. Among the pictures were shots of the young woman passed out after drinking.
"I was just shocked by the amount of stuff that she was willing to publicly display," Homayoun said. "When I saw that, I thought, 'OK, so much for that.' "
Occasionally, students find evidence online that might explain why a job search is foundering. Tien Nguyen, a senior at UCLA, signed up for interviews with corporate recruiters, but he was seldom invited.
Then a friend suggested that Nguyen research himself on Google. He found a link to a satirical essay, "Lying Your Way to the Top," that he had published last summer on a Web site for college students. He asked that the essay be removed. Soon, he began to be invited to job interviews and eventually received several offers.
"I never really considered that employers would do something like that," he said. "I thought they would just look at your resume and grades."
Microsoft Corp. said researching students through social networking sites is now fairly typical.
"For the first time ever, you suddenly have very public information about almost any candidate who is coming through the process," said Warren Ashton, group marketing manager at Microsoft.
Many career counselors have been urging students to review their pages on Facebook and other sites, removing photographs or text that might be inappropriate to show to their grandmother or potential employers.
Melanie Deitch, director of marketing at Facebook, agreed that students should take advantage of the site's privacy settings and be smart about what they post.
But it is not clear whether many students are following the advice.
"I think students have the view that Facebook is their space and that the adult world doesn't know about it," said Mark Smith, director of the career center at Washington University in St. Louis. "But the adult world is starting to come in."