Facebook both help, hindrance for grads’ job search

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff

After teaching in a parochial school for three weeks, Anne, who requested her real name remain anonymous, a senior at UIUC, was fired without pay because of what was on her Facebook account.

Anne was a member of Democratic and Feminist Majority Facebook groups, both of which had pro-choice platforms listed on groups’ Web pages. The school objected, saying that Anne’s beliefs conflicted with the values of the affiliated church, and dismissed Anne without compensating her for the three weeks she had already worked.

Increasingly, Facebook, a social networking site used primarily by college students, is becoming a decisive factor for students in the internship or job search.

Potential applicants can miss out on job opportunities or even lose the jobs they already have because of what is on their Facebook profiles.

“From surveys of employers we’re finding that more and more are considering looking at Facebook,” said Gail Rooney, director of the Career Center.

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So, although many employers may not currently be looking at Facebook, they could in the near future. And outside research confirms this. According to an article published in the NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) Journal, 50 percent of employers said that they use the Internet to screen candidates, and more are considering starting to screen candidates online.

Donna Kroupa, employment and employee relations coordinator at the American Academy of Pediatrics in Elk Grove Village, said that, while her company employs few recent college graduates, she said it could look at an applicant’s Facebook.

“We make our offers contingent on favorable references and background checks, which means that we do reserve the right to search public records – like Facebook,” Kroupa said. “So, is it standard practice for us to look at Myspace or Facebook? No, but we could if we wanted to.”

Rooney cautions people interested in government jobs. Candidates applying for government jobs, particularly those in the State Department or the Department of Defense, must undergo extensive background checks. She said it is likely that the government could find something that has been deleted from a profile.

Also, Rooney said that it isn’t just the college students embarking on a post-college job search who should be wary of their Facebook content. She said that even campus employers, specifically housing, look at applicant profiles.

What to leave off the profile? She suggested that potential job applicants take off any groups, comments and information that someone could find offensive, particularly remarks related to race or gender. But it seems that students are beginning to get the message.

According to collegegrad.com, a job search Web site for recent college grads, 47 percent of recently graduated job seekers plan to change or already have changed their MySpace or Facebook accounts. Rooney doesn’t think that Facebook is all bad. She recommends that job applicants use the site to their advantage.

“I would encourage students to look at Facebook accounts as a way to promote themselves,” she said. Things to focus on? She said students should highlight skills, diversity and values. “It could talk about a project you’ve done or a volunteer experience that you want to promote.”

Rooney suggested that job applicants take a look at their profiles and ask themselves, “Will this pass the grandma test?”

“We say ‘grandma’ instead of ‘mom’ because grandmas tend to be more forgiving,” she said, laughing.

Anne, who is looking for a job after graduation, said that this experience has made her more careful about controlling where her name ends up.

“My views on this topic or my own personal faith were never questioned before I started working,” Anne said. “If I had known that I had to support all of the ideals of the church when I applied, chances are I would not have applied for the job.”