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Employers use Facebook in hiring process

Eileen Duffy | Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Deftly maneuvering between news feeds and recently tagged friends, veering from wall postings to global groups, most Notre Dame students know the art of surfing the social networking Web site Facebook.com.

What many don’t know is that the people hiring them are aware of it too.

When screening job candidates, one in four employers uses the Internet to acquire personal information, and one in 10 uses or has used social networking sites (like facebook.com or MySpace.com) for the same purpose, according to a survey released by Careerbuilder.com Oct. 26.

Those figures come as no surprise to Lee Svete, the director of Notre Dame’s Career Center.

“There’s no question we’ve had employers use Facebook to do background checks on students,” Svete said. As a member of a national benchmarking association called The College and Industry Council, Svete met last April with top employers including Microsoft, General Electric, Intel, Target and Accenture, who addressed the Facebook issue.

“Students are putting inappropriate information on that Web site,” Svete said. “It’s one strategy [employers] use to screen out students. That’s the word they use: screen out.”

Of the hiring managers who used social networking sites to research candidates, the majority (63 percent) did not hire the person based on what they found, according to Careerbuilder.com’s survey. The factors that deterred employers, the survey said, ranged from a candidate bad-mouthing a previous employer to them posting information about drinking or drugs to their having an unprofessional screen name.

“What I find most often is students don’t seem to realize the basic concept that it’s public information,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at Careerbuilder.com, pointing out that information online can be accessed not only be friends, but family, potential coworkers and potential bosses as well. “It’s all fair game.”

Haefner said while motivations vary, most employers using the Internet to screen candidates begin with innocent intentions.

“It starts out with curiosity. They wonder, ‘What else can I find out? What’s not in the resumé, what was not in the interview, what’s the rest of the story?'” she said. “Depending on what’s up there, it can go either positively or negatively.”

Facebook could be a positive thing, Svete admitted, if students were to treat it as a true “face book.”

“While many recruiting laws don’t allow recruiters to ask for a picture, they could use Facebook for a positive identification of a candidate,” he said. “If they go to a career fair and they see 100 students, they might recognize a person’s picture on Facebook – GoIrish [the Career Center’s job postings Web site] doesn’t have pictures.”

There are many other opportunities for creating a positive Internet-based identification outside of social networking sites, Haefner said, like catchy blogs for a marketing student or portfolios for an art student.

But if social networking proves too tempting, Facebook offers users a multitude of privacy settings, allowing them to control who sees their profiles and even whether certain users can search for them.

“You’d have to be pretty good as far as hacking skills to get around those,” said Aaron Wright, a tech support analyst at the Office of Information Technologies.

But one relatively popular option is for students to make their profiles available to “everyone from Notre Dame.” And that community, Svete said, is larger than students think.

“We have a high percentage of Notre Dame alumni who recruit students,” he said. “When [students] make [their profiles] available to the Notre Dame community, they may very well make it available to Notre Dame alumni who are recruiting them with their companies.”

Media spokespeople from Goldman Sachs, General Electric and the Central Intelligence Agency denied that their companies use social networking sites to screen candidates, and Haefner said they are likely telling the truth.

“It’s very rarely a company practice, or policy. It’s just something that individuals may decide they’re going to go around and look for,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell my recruiting team, you’ve got to search MySpace and see if they’re up there.”

Haefner said social networking sites can be fun in appropriate settings.

“Maybe after I’ve known somebody for awhile, they’ll show me pics from the frat party,” she said, laughing. “But not straight away.”