I just graduated from college, and I'm looking for a job at a bank or credit union. My fraternity brothers and I stay on touch through Facebook. Now that I'm hoping to enter the professional world, I try to keep my posts clean, but my friends don't have the same approach. There are photos of us drinking, playing pranks on each other, and partying, and I'm tagged in a lot of them. But it's typical college stuff. Is this something potential employers consider in hiring? Are they legally allowed to look at social media sites for information on applicants?
Employers can -- and do -- look for information about applicants online, including on social media sites. Surveys show that almost half of the employers asked said that they check out applicants on the Internet. For job recruiters, the percentage is even higher. And, an employer that finds distasteful, unprofessional, or offensive posts might well decide not to hire you based on your online persona.
Certain types of information are off-limits when employers make job decisions, whether the employer discovers the information online or in some other way. For example, an employer can't refuse to hire someone because of his or her religious beliefs. Whether an applicant reveals those beliefs in the interview process or in a Facebook post, an employer can't make job decisions based on that information.
Although privacy laws also protect applicants from overly nosy employers, you can't really make a privacy argument about your own online posts. If you've chosen to reveal certain things about yourself, you can't turn around and claim that nobody should be allowed to read it. On the other hand, if you have taken advantage of the privacy settings available to you, the rules might be different. In a few states, for example, employers are prohibited from requiring applicants or employees to hand over their social media passwords.
Other than these limits, however, employers are within their rights to check you out online. It's up to you to do what you can to make sure that what they find there isn't going to work against you.
Start your online cleanup by upping your privacy settings, allowing only those you choose to see your social media pages. Tell your friends that your job search is going to require a more mature online presence, and ask for their help in keeping posts about you clean. And, start using Facebook's untag feature to get your name off photos that you can't convince people to remove.
Hopefully, some e-housekeeping will help get you ready for the working world. Just remember: It can be very hard to remove all traces of past indiscretions from the Internet. If some enterprising potential employer happens across a picture of you in a toga holding a beer bong, be ready to explain that you've changed your ways.
For more information, see Nolo's article Can Potential Employers Check Your Facebook Page?