Reference Checking on Facebook

Reference Checking on Facebook

Facebook Privacy

By Amanda Frank
Monster Contributing Writer

Facebook could be sabotaging your career. How is that possible you ask? It’s just a harmless social networking site that you use to keep in touch with friends and family. Where’s the malice you say?

You’re being judged by what you do in the public domain. Every move you make, every step you take leaves a trace in cyberspace. The best way to keep on top of your own personal brand is to control the information you put out there.

Germany recently banned employee screening on social networking sites that aren’t designated for professional profiling, like LinkedIN. 
The people of North America rejoiced at the news. Hurray you said. How progressive. Keep Big Brother out of my fun you said.

Well it’s a bit early to celebrate. A law is only as good as it is enforceable. And nothing is stopping Germany’s employers from privately screening prospective hires off the books.

It would be the same predicament here if such a law went into effect in Canada. The incentive for recruiters to conduct these screenings is too high. Look at the situation from the recruiter’s perspective.

What better way to get to know a stranger? With the amount of personal information people air out on Facebook, it would be negligent - even crazy - not to use it as a cross-reference for potential new hires.

Liability-wise, the recruiter is ultimately responsible for filtering candidates. It’s her reputation on the line. If your Facebook page indicates in any way that you are a loose cannon, she might deem you too risky to present to the client. In that case consider your job opportunity kyboshed.

In the aftermath of Germany’s ban on Facebook screening of applicants, posted a question on Facebook, which generated a flurry of commentary and ultimately spurred this article. The question was, “Would you hire an agency to scrub your Facebook profile?”

The candidate-sided comments were laden with contempt for employers that cross into private life territory. ‘If they’re going to judge me based on my social networking comings and goings, then hallelujah I just dodged a bullet,’ as opposed to ‘doggonit I let that job get away.’ Most people were adamantly against the notion of scrubbing their cyber personas.
One response came from a self identifying recruiter. Her opinion on the matter was markedly less laissez-faire than all the chatter coming from the would-be candidates.

“I am a recruiter and we do screen on FB and have not put some candidates forth based on what we have seen. Therefore change your FB profiles so nothing is accessible except to your friends.”

DIY Method

Clearly, our principles can interfere with practicality. Sometimes, it makes sense to put aside our lofty principles and eliminate the impediments to gainful employment. If you wouldn’t go so far as to spend one red cent on a service to have it done for you, then at least do it yourself. Here’s how to go-go-dance about it in case you are so inclined.

Privacy Settings

  • Go to your Facebook page.
  • Click on Account in the top right corner of your screen.
  • Scroll down the list of options and select Privacy Settings. You will be taken to a privacy matrix for controlling how you share different types of information.
  • Select ‘Friends Only’ to be ultra safe.
  • Or, if you want to make some of your information public, such as your profile picture and basic contact information, select custom.

 Wall Comments

Comments can easily get out of control. Do the math: You have 469 friends. You’ve posted 3 comments a day since you signed up on Facebook in 2005. That’s 5475 comments floating around with the potential to bite you on the rear. Devote a bit of time to scour the walls of friends for comments that could shed you in a questionable light, or that just make you sound like a moron.
Like & Interests

It helps to know what could get you in trouble and hurt your reputation. In this case, you’re guilty by association. Martha Stewart. TED Conference. “I Hate My Boss” fan page. Who you Like certainly says something about you. Are you selective when you respond to requests to Like or become a Fan of something? Are you even capable of recalling all the things you allow on your profile? Keep your Likes as neutral as possible and you will avoid offending even the biggest prudes.

Profile Picture

It needn’t be a stale headshot, but your profile picture should be inoffensive. Keep the cleavage to a minimum. Don’t choose a picture of yourself flipping the bird either.

Photo Albums

Same goes for all of your photos and all your photo albums. A picture tells a thousand words. Watch out. You will be judged by whatever you’re putting out there. No ultra sexy bikini shots. No muscle man body shots. No shotguns. No beer kegs. Think about all the red flags you could be setting off. When in doubt, delete the photo.

Photos of Me

Look through all the photos that appear in your profile. These are photos your friends have so lovingly tagged you in. Remove Tag for anything risqué or unflattering.


Don’t risk polarizing yourself by expressing your stand on anything related to religion and politics. Leave it blank.

Facebook can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Don’t give recruiters and hiring managers the option to trawl around your Facebook profile digging for dirt. Be proactive. Facebook gives you privacy options. Exercise your right to privacy.