Employers: your new Facebook stalkers

Six years ago, my life (as well as the lives of many others) was much simpler. The reason—Facebook did not exist.

Today, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Facebook and other social networking sites. My computer is always on, an Internet window with tabs for each site is always up and I take my computer with me everywhere. For me, going a day without checking e-mail and social networking sites is a lot like skipping lunch—it rarely happens, and when it does, it’s tragic.

The rapid growth of social networking users has led to an increase in the number of uses for these Web sites. More recently, sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become a “second resume” for job applicants, as employers search candidate profiles for any extra information that may aid in the selection process.

As with many other facets of hiring practices, ethics and privacy issues come into question. Should employers consider what job candidates post on their social networking profiles when making the final decision? Where is the line drawn between a person’s personal and professional lives?

It’s difficult for me to completely take one side or the other, as I can see legitimate reasoning for both. However, when it comes down to the facts, I have to side with the employers—and here’s why.

Social networking users need to realize that any information they put on the Web is ultimately public, no matter what privacy settings help guard their profiles. Simply put, if you want something to remain a part of your personal, private life, don’t put it on the Internet. It’s not rocket science.

Additionally, arguing the excuse that what you do outside of the office doesn’t matter to an employer is just wrong. In fact, looking at a Facebook profile to see how someone acts in a social setting is a perfect way to determine how one might act at a company event. Even if the employer doesn’t host events, as an employee, you are ultimately a representative of the company, and how you act in public can directly impact the way other people (especially potential clients) view the company you work for.

The only thing I worry about with employers looking at social networking profiles is how critical they are of the content. For instance, I try to have a sense of humor about most things in life, so when several top seeds were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, I thanked them (sarcastically) in a Facebook status for messing up my bracket. However, should I be worried potential employers won’t see the humor in my status? Will they start making character judgments based on something harmless I poke fun at? I feel like this is something I shouldn’t have to worry about, but unfortunately, this is the price we pay for the gray area that exists between the personal and professional aspects of our lives.

The bottom line rests on the fact that online information will always be available to employers, whether we like it or not. They’re not wrong for wanting to find out more about their job candidates, but they should know where to drawn the line when determining what is really important in selecting an employee. Nevertheless, in the current state of our economy, don’t let an inappropriate photo or critical comment be the one thing that keeps you from getting a job.