Social networks may negatively affect employment

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Michael Babeji,’11, applied for an internship as a camp counselor specializing in psychology working with children with autistic disorders at a large company in the western Pennsylvania area.

“When I got the position, per what I thought was a good idea at the time, I updated my Facebook status to say that this company had hired me and that I was excited and happy to work for them,” said Babeji.

The company forwarned Babeji that they would do a background check of him online, to which he agreed and signed his contract.

“It was the first time I had gotten a job offer this significant I was very careful in reading their policies.”
Babeji didn’t expect them to do anything with his Web information.  The morning after his eight-hour orientation period for the job, he woke up to a phone call from the human resources department of the company.

“The lady apologized in advance and told me I had been let go from the position because they had seen my Facebook status updated to mention I was working for them,” Babeji said. “I was taken aback. I hadn’t said anything profane or devious. I just said I was happy to work for them.”

Babeji asked the woman if there was anything he could do or say on his behalf, but the woman said no. She told him if someone was employed in this company for thirty days, the person could be terminated without any opportunity to retaliate or argue for keeping the position. Babeji had not remembered reading this part of the policy.

“It bothered me because I wasn’t able to let them know that I was sincerely apologetic and that I had meant no harm by it,” Babeji said.

The company later mailed Babeji their official reasons for termination.

“They were afraid, having posted that I was part of their company, that it would make patients feel uncomfortable, the campers or the parents, and somehow it violated confidentiality,” Babeji said.

Confidentiality violations were not explained to him on the phone or in the contract or stipulations. It was not introduced in the orientation.

“I begrudge them absolutely nothing,” Babeji said. “I just would have liked to have been able to give my input, especially since I was a new hire and very unfamiliar with the company.  I was disgruntled for a few days because I had lost a job I was looking forward to.”

The use of online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can make or break a job offer.
Alycia McCullough, assistant director of career services and leadership coordinator, believes strongly in the importance of online branding. She thinks using social networks online can help students looking for a job.

“There’s a variety of different things that people are using to hire or fire a lot of candidates,”  said McCullough. “If nothing else, it gives an employer a great way of considering an employee. By having really great online branding, you might be able to get yourself a job.”

According to McCullough, people can use their Facebook professionally. For example, someone passionate about community service might post updates and photographs describing a service experience, elaborating visually on what’s already on a resume.

“The thing that gets tricky is that people mix that up with their social life,” McCullough said. “The hard part is identifying what is going to be important to an employer that I want them to see versus what I don’t want people to know about.”

The problem is once something potentially risky or embarrassing makes it on the Web, it remains visible long after. According to the Facebook privacy policy, even after removing information from your profile or deleting your account, that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, copied or stored by other users.

“When you sign up for a Facebook, you’re basically allowing it to be public information,” McCullough said. “Anything you put online reserves cookies in the cyber world that can always be found again. You might take down all your crazy pictures but it’s still in the system.”

For Babeji, his excited status update was all the company needed as reason for termination. For jobs that requires staunch confidentially agreements, social networking sites might be the most honest way for employers to check up on personal behavior.

“What we know is that Facebook will sell your information to employers – it’s very expensive so a lot of little companies won’t necessarily spend money on that, but some major corporations need to know their new hires are really making a good effort online to not be posting their weekend shenanigans,” McCullough said.

McCullough advises students to create a LinkedIn profile instead and contact people in their related fields, She explained that boxes and profile pages available don’t allow users to post things that aren’t to their benefit. Additionally, people can promote or recommend each other on LinkedIn.

“Anything we say or do can come back and bite us, so if you approach it with a professional tone, it won’t,” McCullough said. “As adults, we get that fact that you are ever-evolving human beings, so if at one point you have one opinion and in the future you change your mind, we have some level of grace as humans for that.”

McCullough says the boom of technology is a reaction of our society growing dramatically but it takes a long time for our laws to catch up, according to McCullough.

“We’re putting policies in place to protect people but technology is racing ahead,” McCullough said. “So companies are saying, ‘Hey, this is one more way we can screen candidates. Let’s use it.’”