Being an open book could be risky for your career

facebookAccording to an article on MyBroadband, job-seekers are being warned to avoid posting compromising photos and status updates, and even innocuous details like hobbies; political opinions; and personal lives, on social networking sites like Facebook as it is a growing trend for employers to routinely check potential employees’ backgrounds by doing online searches, sometimes even before extending invitations for job interviews.

More and more employers are researching job candidates on sites like Facebook; MySpace; and Twitter to find out more about their activities and character. Unfortunately, many candidates come out looking bad on these sites – showing poor communication skills; inappropriate behaviour; and even leaking workplace secrets. Three in four said they judged candidates negatively who complain about their jobs in public forums or post pictures of themselves at rowdy parties. CareerBuilder also reports that many employers choose not to hire based on the information they find online.

In the past, before social media was as commonplace as it is now, it may have been possible to get away with inappropriate online behaviour without your employers being aware of it. However, job candidates have had years to build up a potentially unsavory history on the internet now, and employers are just as savvy as their potential employees when it comes to navigating the web and social networking sites.

It could be argued that employers shouldn’t use information from social networking sites as a basis for making decisions about potential employees – especially sites such as Facebook which are used by the majority of individuals to communicate with their friends, rather than for networking or professional purposes. Also, what an employee does in their own time is their own business – except that they are making it public property by broadcasting it in the public domain, where they are aware anyone, including their employers, has access to it. It therefore seems logical that in a social media-driven society it is necessary to exercise some caution and use your judgment when it comes to what you post online, and who has access to the information.

The main issue is that there seems to be a lack of understanding of the importance of social networking sites’ privacy settings and how they work. Facebook allows users to share just about anything they like, under the guise of ‘being social’ and ‘maintaining transparency’. However, do we have a problem knowing how much is too much? Has it become addictive to share every intimate, embarrassing detail of our lives in detail sometimes at the expense of our reputations, relationships, and even jobs?

The thing is that Facebook, for example, does offer pretty elaborate features to allow users to control their privacy – even going as far as allowing you to choose what you show to what type of people by creating ‘friend lists’ and allowing you to create different views for different segments of your life. As a blogpost on Mashable puts it, this type of categorisation happens in everyday, offline life, so why shouldn’t we exercise the right to control who sees what online, as well? It’s the online equivalent of not socialising with your boss on the weekend because you don’t want him to see you dancing on the table when you’re out with your friends. That seems obvious, so why don’t we exercise the same precautions on the web?

On the other hand, another Mashable blogpost asks the question: “is all this plain common sense, and the solution is to be more careful about what you post? Or does that start to diminish the very utility and connectivity we value in things like Twitter and Facebook?”

An interesting conundrum, and definitely something to think about – as we are all trying to get to grips with using social media to better our businesses, and probably needing people to share as much information as possible for that to be effective – is being 100% open on social networking sites a threat to our reputations, or a necessity to fully realise their potential?

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