Job-seeking college grads may require an extreme social networking makeover

According to CareerBuilder.com, more than one in five employers search social networking sites to screen potential hires.

Congratulations, graduates. You've been out of school for a bit now and, if you haven't yet lined up an internship or a job, you're frantically looking. You have all of your ducks in a row: résumé, references, portfolio, etc. However, what you've neglected to do is take down those keg stand pictures you have up on your public Facebook page.

Will this keep you from getting a job? Maybe.

According to a survey conducted late last year by CareerBuilder.com, more than one in five employers search social networking sites to screen potential hires. And, if your social network presence isn't in tiptop condition, it might hinder you from getting the job of your dreams in an already tough market.

CDW, a provider of technology products and services, is one such company that seriously considers the social network presence of all hires. After a slow-down in hiring earlier this year, the company re-focused its recruitment efforts in the social networking realm and is steadily building a pipeline of talent by looking at Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to recruit college graduates seeking careers in IT, sales and/or engineering.

"More than 30 percent of CDW's coworkers are made up of Gen Y, which means paying attention to social networking is critical to finding and retaining the right talent," said Charles Bretz, CDW senior recruiter. "Specifically, CDW is looking for candidates that have the same values as the company - respect for colleagues, customers, partners and communities as well as working everyday with passion and integrity. As such, social networking, as one of CDW's main sources of sourcing talent, plays a large role in pairing down a large group of candidates to find the right ones for the job."

For this reason, Bretz cautions job candidates and reminds them of the "grandmother rule of thumb" when it comes to social networking.

"If you would not want your grandmother to read or see it, then take it down," he said. "Candidates who want to be considered seriously by CDW should have a professional profile on Facebook or Twitter and on LinkedIn they should have recommendations from past jobs, friends, etc., to illustrate their professional and personal commitment."

CDW takes the more conservative approach when it comes to the social networking presence of its potential hires, however other companies are a little more open.

"While reviewing social networking sites can reveal certain things about a candidate's behaviour, interviewers should realize that much of what a candidate puts on these sites is for fun, and does not necessarily reflect an applicant's ability to be successful at your company or their on-the-job demeanour," said Thomas Morselli, director of human resources at Mindspark Interactive, Inc. "Smart interviewers understand that these sites are not key decision makers in the overall process, and are simply part of a well-planned and conducted selection process that is designed to uncover relevant information about candidates' ability to do the job and fit in well within our company's culture."

Responsible Outgoing College Students (ROCS) is a company that helps college students and recent grads find jobs in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. Matt Smith says his company believes that Facebook profiles should not determine whether a candidate should receive a job or not.

"Frankly, we do not check their Facebook profiles and feel that students should have the right to their own personal lives," Smith said. "In our five-year history, we've never had a complaint from our clients about a Facebook profile."

Next: Are we being too tough on students? -->

Smith maintains that activities in which students partake in college may be on the wild side, but are forgivable since many now-successful adults - including him - have been there.

"We don't judge our students because in most cases, nobody has ever taught them what to expect," he said. "Think about it, our generation is a lot more open and tolerant than previous generations, so it's just part of how they grew up - more upfront and open. There is a problem, though, not too many people know what's acceptable and what's not, which is why we let our students know about what to do with their online profiles before entering the workplace."

Jeremiah Owyang published an important blog post today, focusing on challenges faced by those seeking full-time social media positions. However, some of his advice applies across the board:

"Candidates should recognize that recruiters and hiring managers are looking at how individuals behave online -it factors into the decision on why they may -or may not be contacted. So before you post that blog lambasting another blogger, or somewhat questionable photos in Facebook, or talking about recovering from your hangover on Twitter, remember that hiring managers are analyzing how a candidate will represent their brand."

Owyang makes a critical point, one to which all job seekers should pay heed. In the current Web environment in which almost everyone could be perceived as representing his or her company, companies are considering individual reputation of employees more than ever before - even if your role does not include spokesperson activities. This applies to college students as well.

I polled my Twitter network yesterday to find out what they think about how much a social networking presence should be taken into consideration for recent college grads. I received great feedback from Olivier Blanchard, Meg Fowler, Norman Guadagno and Lou Hoffman.

Don't panic - if your online presence is less than sanitary there are things you can do to clean it up. While, sadly, once you put something on the Internet it pretty much lives forever, you can always move forward for a fresh start. Here are some tips aggregated from everyone mentioned above.

  • Limit your profile if you're looking for a job. Do not hide it, but give it a more professional focus.
  • Adjust security or privacy settings so that you can closely monitor which photos in which you are tagged. If given the option, remove the tag, and if the owner of the photo is a supportive friend, ask them to remove it.
  • Proactively ask your friends to be conscious of your current job search and to limit their unprofessional behavior on your profile. After all, "guilt by association" is a real thing.
  • Once you have the job, still watch what you post on your profiles, especially if you're connected to your boss or co-workers.
  • Make sure your picture is recent and not over-the-top (Smith cautions against "circa 1991 Glamour Shots")
  • Finally, don't forget the "grandmother rule."

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