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By Lauren Holliday
Central Florida Future, U. Central Florida

(UWire)—Students applying for jobs and internships now have something else to prepare to be asked about: social media websites.

Nicholas Futch, a U. Central Florida senior electrical engineering major, is one student who can explain a "social media clause" from first-hand experience.

When he applied for an internship at a defense contracting company in Orlando, he was asked for his Facebook URL and "name as it appeared."

It is not a secret the Internet has long aided employers in their quest for information on job applicants. Now, some companies go a step further than a quick Google search and hire professionals to do the work for them.

Recently, Reppler, a social media reputation management service, based in Palo Alto, Calif., conducted a survey of 300 professionals involved in the hiring process at their companies. The survey found that more than 90% of those hiring managers and recruiters use social networking sites to screen prospective employees.

Vlad Gorelik, Reppler founder, stressed the importance of putting your best foot—or face—forward, since many recruiters check out the applicant's online image before having an actual conversation with the candidate.

Many recruiters check out the applicant's online image before having an actual conversation with the candidate. 

"Chances are that first impression with the recruiter will lead to whatever it is they find about you online," Gorelik said. "And with how hard it is to get a job in today's market, you want to put your best foot forward."

Futch was at the second stage of the hiring process when the recruiter questioned him about groups he had joined on Facebook—four years ago.

"I was surprised they were more concerned with the groups I was a part of as opposed to my social interactions," said Futch, who was ultimately hired. "I was 21 years old when I applied, and they were looking at groups I joined when I was 17."

Gorelik said it is important to be aware of what you are doing online.

"When companies or recruiters go back, a lot of times it's not clear when you look at someone's Facebook profile how far back some things go," Gorelik said. "For example, if you 'like' something six or seven years ago, it might still show up on the list of things you like; there is no time frame. Companies look at it, but they might not think about the time frame."

digging deeper

Aside from reputation, companies are hiring screening agencies like Social Intelligence to find everything potential applicants may have said or done online, with searches that go back as far as seven years.

Companies using Social Intelligence must have the applicant's approval before they begin the online check, and the recruiters must let them know of any harmful information the search produces.

"Less than a third of the data surfaced by Social Intelligence comes from places such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller sites, like Tumblr, as well as Yahoo! user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist," Max Drucker, chief executive of Social Intelligence, said in the July 2011 New York Times article "Social media history becomes a new job hurdle."

The company only produces what is publicly available. A lot of the time, people are unaware that the content they post is easily available to the public.

"One prospective employee was found [to be] using Craigslist to look for oxycontin," Drucker said. "Another posted nude photos on an image-sharing site. There was one applicant who belonged to the Facebook group, ‘This Is America. I Shouldn't Have to Press 1 for English.' This raises a question: 'Does that mean you don't like people who don't speak English?'"

Lam Vu, a UCF freshman mathematical and educational major, said he will worry about changing his Facebook when he goes to apply for an internship or job.

"I don't think I have anything that bad on my profile," Vu said. "When it comes time to apply for internships or jobs, I will make my Facebook more professional."

the good news

Gorelik said the Reppler survey found social media sites actually helped some candidates land jobs.

Social media sites actually helped some candidates land jobs. 

"There were some cases where people actually got jobs because their profile had a positive impact," Gorelik said. "It is not about just shutting everything out and going sleepy quiet—that's completely hiding your way. It's about managing how you present yourself."

It is hard to know what is public vs. what is private online, and who has access to your network that you may be unaware of; therefore, one of the key tools of Reppler's free service shows you where your professional and private networks overlap.

"It's a free service, but at the end of the day you have to make the decision: what is appropriate, what is not appropriate," Gorelik said. "The service will bring things to your attention, but it is up to you to make the decision [of what you post]."

Futch survived his first interview, got hired and has moved on to another job where there is no "social media clause," but he recently found out that the company still checked his online image.

"I've never had another job ask me," Futch said. "But I know someone checked my sites before I was hired at my current job. Someone mentioned at lunch one day how the company does the background checks. We're not even that big, but we do."

Published January 26, 2012

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