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Mind Your Facebook Manners

Tips to keep your online profiles work-appropriate

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You may have published a blog in high school about your undying love for Justin Timberlake. Now you’re about to graduate, and the last thing you want is a prospective employer reading your gushing tribute to the singer. Facebook is a central part of many college students’ lives, but a few poorly chosen words or photos could harm your chances of being hired.

“You need to be very protective about your personal privacy and how you want to be seen,” says Richard Leger, director of BU’s Office of Career Services. “Realize that any time you put information out there, theoretically it’s out there forever.”

Hiring is a competitive process, and employers want to learn as much as they can about a candidate. Besides reading your cover letter and resume and calling you in for an interview, they will check references and may even perform an online search.

“If employers see things online that make them question the character or seriousness of the individual, that could tip a borderline candidate into the ‘no’ category,” says Leger. “Even if you’re a hot, hot hire, having inappropriate material on Facebook could mean a lower salary.”

So how do you protect your reputation online?

  • Start by Googling yourself and see what comes up. Ask yourself whether the information would raise a red flag to a future employer.
  • Remove inappropriate photos or information, such as references to drinking or drug use. And remember, you may not have written everything on your Facebook wall, but you’re still accountable for what others write about you.
  • Block your profile so that only your selected “friends” can see it. (To do so, click on “Privacy” at the top of your Facebook home page and you’ll have the ability to change your privacy settings). If you belong to the Boston network and don’t block your profile to your friends list, any member of the public network (almost 400,000 people) can see it.
  • Consider whom you want to be your “friend.” Don’t befriend your boss if you don’t want to give him or her access to your profile.
  • Make sure your e-mail address is appropriate; HotChick71 isn’t the image you want to project. Leger suggests using your BU address or one that has a neutral or professional appearance.

Facebook has been criticized for being too public with its users’ information — advertising when a user has posted pictures, joined a group, or made an online purchase, for example. Last week, the site announced it is introducing new privacy controls that will enable users to distinguish among friends, family, and coworkers in their “friends” list.

But it’s wise not to depend on those controls and instead just play it safe. “In a public service like a Facebook, you want to give off a conservative demeanor to potential employers,” Leger says. “I would just be very careful of anything I sent out online, whether it be through e-mail or applications like Facebook.”

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

3 Comments

3 Comments on Mind Your Facebook Manners

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2008 at 2:49 am

    Conservative demeanor? I work for a major auction house that spied on my Facebook and was happy to see I had some personality.

    Facebook is a great way to prove yourself a good candidate. We’re all people, here, with interests and vices. No one should want to come off as conservative or average. You stuck to that formula when you applied to colleges and thats why you go to BU instead of Harvard.

    If your email is hotchik@ or you’re posting pictures of you passing a blunt, chances are you won’t be making it anyway.

  • tybeck on 03.25.2008 at 6:13 pm

    I think when they say “conservative demeanor” they are encouraging you to play it safe and keep your potential employer’s attitudes and expectations of prospective hires in mind. Some are more tolerant than others and you can’t show all of yourself all of the time. At least this has been my experience to date.

  • Anonymous on 03.25.2008 at 11:20 pm

    I agree with the previous comment; except no one likes Harvard anyway. In this day, it doesn’t matter where you graduated from. Just because you went to Harvard doesn’t mean you’ll get the job. If you went to Harvard, there’s most likely about 50 other kids applying for the same job that are as qualified and bland as you are. Like you said, it’s about personality; what separates you from the Harvard [expletive].

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