STAR-BULLETIN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION / DAVID SWANN
Too Much Information
Job recruiters go online for personal info
STORY SUMMARY »
Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are gaining popularity -- among job recruiters snooping into their prospective employees' pages, that is.
This creates potential problems for job applicants who post revealing information or photos, but also for recruiters who walk the fine line between character judgment and employment discrimination.
Career advisers tell job seekers to take down whatever they wouldn't want recruiters to see, or simply make their page private so only friends can view too-revealing information.
FULL STORY »
Alice Iida, a job recruiter, thought she had a promising hire. At a young age, the candidate boasted on his resumé about starting what looked like a professional consulting business.
Ways To Protect Yourself
While it's legal to look at potential hires' personal Internet sites, such as MySpace, there is a fine line between curiosity and employment discrimination.
» Document the legitimate business reasons why you decided not to hire someone.
» Treat viewing their pages like an interview. Remember there are some personal information that you can and can't ask about. Just because you have more information on them, don't base your decisions on what could be considered discrimination.
» Employment discrimination includes basing decision on a person's race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability.
You don't have to refrain from joining social networking sites, but remember you live with the consequences of the information you choose to post.
» Google yourself. This is the first rule when job hunting. Remove information unfavorable to employers if you can. Also, it's good to be aware of what's out there about you in case questions come up in interviews.
» Make your page private. Change your settings so that only friends can view your site.
» Don't post anything you think employers wouldn't want to see. Chances are they won't like reading about or seeing pictures of your sex life, inebriated nights out or anything illegal.
But a look at his MySpace page told a different story.
"Reading about it online, the name was the same but it was designed as a wannabe record label," said Iida, who works for Staffing Solutions, a Hawaii staffing agency. "There were other red flags, not only from his MySpace, but he ended up being a nonhire."
People like to think of their MySpace or Facebook pages as personal, but with recruiters more commonly Googling candidates or peeking at these social networking sites, it could be damaging to job seekers. Scandalous photos, drunken wall posts or blogs complaining about bosses may be fine among friends, but they could be deal-breakers for employers.
"We know that employers do look there when they're recruiting, so anything that you think an employer wouldn't want to see, don't post it," said Myrtle Ching-Rappa, director of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Career Services Center. "You want to post things on Facebook, yes, you have the right to do that. But you live with the consequences."
Iida said it's not company policy or even second nature yet for most recruiters to look up a candidate's personal site. But as they grow in popularity, with sites like Facebook now open to the public, many say the trend of recruiters investigating them is growing.
According to a 2006 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than one-quarter of responding organizations said they have Googled job candidates or looked at their profiles online.
"It's definitely helpful because it offers insight into someone that you normally wouldn't get in an interview," Iida said.
But some MySpace users object to employers poking into their personal pages, saying that information there shouldn't cross into the professional world.
"I don't think my social life should be an indicator of who I am in the work place," said Mika McCanless , 23, a senior at UH majoring in speech communication. "I think it's pretty unethical for them to be looking at our sites."
UH architecture student Jennifer Chellappa adds, "What they are like after work shouldn't matter to their employer."
Ethical or not, legally, employers are doing nothing wrong by looking, lawyers say.
"If you post something on the Internet that's accessible to the general public, I can't say you should expect a level of privacy for that information," said Carolyn Gugelyk , a local attorney specializing in employment discrimination.
However, there are potential pitfalls for employers who happen on to information that by law cannot be used in a hiring decision.
Gugelyk warns that sexual orientation, religious beliefs, single motherhood or pregnancy are areas that open the door to employment discrimination.
"One big issue is employment discrimination and using these Web sites and blogs to potentially exclude people based upon race, gender, etc." said Danielle Conway-Jones, a UH law school professor specializing in Internet law.
As for candidates, they may not ever learn that an online posting has cost them a job.
"If someone didn't hire you, you're likely not to know why they didn't hire you," said Kerry Kopp , president of Altres Staffing, an employment services agency in Hawaii. "I really doubt an employer would come out and say we didn't hire you because we looked at your MySpace."
College career advisers tell their students that they not only need to practice good in-person professional skills, but they need to have cyberspace common sense too.
"Your behavior outside the workplace is just as important as your behavior in the workplace," said Lianne Maeda, Hawaii Pacific University's Career Services Center director. "There shouldn't be any line between the two because you never know whether someone in some network is going to say something which would reflect poorly on you."
It could be as simple as changing privacy settings so that only friends can view personal Web pages.
McCanless, the UH senior, said her MySpace page is public but she'll likely switch it to private as she starts job hunting when she graduates in December.
"I think that's a good idea," she said. "I'd hate not to be hired because of my MySpace."