Facebook: The new background check

By Megan McNamara

Facebook has grown up, moved out and gotten a job.

The popular social networking site, originally intended as a way for college students to keep in touch and stay “in the know” with friends from other schools has also turned into a tool that employers use to track down and screen potential employees without their knowledge.

“I think it’s kind of an invasion of privacy,” Jessica Gutierrez, freshman in LAS, said.

Employers now hire college students or recent graduates with Facebook accounts to look up would-be hires from their schools and report back to them.

“The reality is that employers are definitely using Facebook to find out about potential job candidates,” said Brandon Bute, assistant director of the Career Center. “It can certainly have an impact on whether or not students are hired.”

Some students feel that a quick glance through a profile that may have been created just for fun can be misleading.

“(Employers should) get to know us personally before writing us off based on a limited profile on a site that was originally made for social use,” Gutierrez said. “Facebook should be known as social networking; just because they’re using it for work purposes doesn’t mean that we are.”

Other students feel that Facebook is what you make of it, and that those with appropriate profiles have no reason to worry.

“From an employee’s perspective, they may feel like their privacy is being invaded, but then again you don’t have to put up pictures and stuff like that on Facebook,” Steve Stachowiak, junior in LAS, said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. The paid students might be reporting bad things back to the employer, but not necessarily – if the Facebook profile is good, it could probably help you.”

However, the fact remains that the information students put on the Internet is out there, and people can use that information any way they want.

“Most students still have a blind eye to it,” Bute said. “But put yourself in the employer’s shoes. If you were looking at your profile as a potential hire, would you consider yourself for the job?”

Bute recommends using the “grandmother test” to determine whether or not your profile is employer-friendly.

“I would treat Facebook as a job tool – use it professionally,” Bute said. “I would recommend taking out pictures of yourself holding alcohol, half-naked. That’s not something an employer wants to see. What would you have Grandma see?” Bute said.

Facebook doesn’t have to hurt students searching for a job. If used properly, it can help to serve as a portfolio.

“Students can put up professional pictures and list relevant activities,” Bute said. “For example, if you are looking for a teaching job, put up pictures of yourself tutoring kids. If you’re a photographer, put up photos you’ve taken. You can use Facebook to your advantage.”

Still, most students recoil from the notion of pandering to a potential employer.

“I’m not going to alter my profile,” Gutierrez said. “I’m not interested in working for an employer who judges me by my music interests or what I do on the weekends.”

Stachowiak said that tailoring your interests to meet the needs of an employer “defeats the whole purpose of Facebook.”