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Could Your Facebook Profile Cost You Your Dream Job?

Potential employers often use the social network to weed out job applicants with undesirable characteristics. Make sure your profile sends the right message.

Remember the fateful day that your parents tried to friend you on Facebook? Within minutes, you’d scrolled through years worth of photos, literally hundreds of images, and tried to untag any of yourself posed with alcohol, cigarettes, half-naked women…or anything that could expose you as the lush/slacker/perv that you really are. Trouble is—Mom and Dad aren’t the only ones snooping around your social-media life. Turns out, your next potential boss may take a very keen interest in what you’re posting on Saturday at 2 a.m.

A new study from North Carolina State University finds that around 40% of employers use Facebook to research job applicants, and about 45% of those employers have honed in on information that would disqualify a job applicant. The researchers learned that organizations may use Facebook to weed out unfit candidates by looking for posts referencing drinking and drug use, as well as posts bad-mouthing one’s current employer. 

“Future employers will take note if they catch you talking badly about your current job or any of your co-workers,” says William Stoughton, M.S., lead study author and doctoral candidate at NC State University. “Numerous reports have showed employers are increasing use of social media to screen job candidates and monitor current and potential employees’ off-the-clock behaviors.” While the study does indicate that Facebook isn’t a reliable way to screen job applicants (downtime behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect on-the-job performance), applicants should still be cautious when posting to their social-media profiles. “Fair or not,” says Stoughton. “The potential to be screened is very real.”

Don’t let social snooping become the reason you don’t get hired. Take the time to untag yourself in any compromising photos now—and follow these tips to keep your nose (and profile) clean later.

  1. Cut back on work-related Facebook rants:  Not only is it unprofessional, it also makes you look like a jerk.  If you need to vent about a crappy day at work, don’t do it in writing. You’re safer confiding in a friend over the phone or in person.

  2. Don’t post while drinking: At an awesome party that you want everyone to know about? Before you pick up the phone to post your photos or hilarious quotes, try to remind yourself that your judgment could be impaired. Wait until the next day when you can take the time to crop the bottle out of your hand.

  3. Keep your profile clean of drug references: Legality isn’t the only reason to keep drugs private (while we aren’t judging your recreational choices, employers might). Even if you never touch the stuff, don’t mention or joke about drugs on your wall or profile.

  4. Disable tagging: While you’re going through the interview process, disabling tagging will prevent anyone else from posting things that make you look bad. You might not be uploading wild party pictures, but that doesn’t mean your friends aren’t tagging you in theirs.

  5. Up your privacy settings: Mark Zuckerberg seems pretty hell-bent on making your personal information public; Facebook changes their privacy settings about every 10 minutes. So while you might think you’ve locked down your profile, due to periodic updates, your info could easily go public again (try logging out and review the public version of your profile). Stay on top of these updates and check your privacy settings every few weeks, 

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