Social reputation: How Facebook can help or hurt your job search

Photo credit: BluEyedA73

According to a 2009 survey, 45 percent of employers said they visit the social network sites of potential hires, up from 22 percent in 2008. As an almost-finished graduate student who will soon re-enter the job market, this statistic made me revisit my Facebook page with fresh eyes. What is it saying to employers?

Priyanshu Harshavat is the CEO of Socioclean Inc., a young Chicago company that scans your Facebook page for objectionable content, helping you “understand and protect your social reputation.”

Harshavat noticed there were many tools out there for companies to monitor their brand via social networks, but nothing for today’s Facebook-addicted job seeker.

“It was hard for them to know what they might be sharing on a Friday night and how it might affect them six months down the road,” he said.

After launching a beta version last November, Socioclean now has 30,000 users of its free service and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill just purchased a site license so all students can access SocioClean’s service for free.

How does it work? The site connects to your Facebook profile and scans wall messages, groups, status updates and photo captions for a library of 5,000 different words and phrases related to alcohol, drugs, profanity and racial or sexual content. Then it presents users with a report grading them on their profile and outlining potential content they should delete.

Harshavat plans to roll out a premium, paid product in July that scans more social networks (YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn) and provides constant monitoring and search in multiple languages. An annual subscription will cost $29.99 and one-time use will be $14.99.

While 35 percent of employers reported eliminating a candidate based on content found on social networking sites (see photo above), 18 percent have hired candidates based on social media content.

According to the CareerBuilder survey, 50 percent of employers hired a candidate when his or her profile “provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality and fit” and 30 percent when the profile “supported the candidate’s professional qualifications.”

Allison Nawoj, corporate communications manager at CareerBuilder, said, “Use your profile to help highlight your strengths and showcase different things you’re working on. Make it easy for employers to find you.”

Nawoj encourages job seekers to give their social media profiles a similar feel, not only in appearance and profile picture but also what language and messaging is being used.

“It’s important to make sure to Google yourself and see what’s out there,” she said. “Take a step back and look at your profiles through the eyes of an employer, not a friend or yourself.”

After Googling myself, glad to find my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles as the top two results, I decided to give my Facebook profile a thorough SocioClean.

I got an “A,” satisfying the overachiever in me, but I was made aware of a few questionable wall posts and photo captions from my free-wheeling days in a college dance troupe. Though my privacy settings are ironclad, I promptly deleted this content.

The flipside of the SocioClean product—scans return numerous results taken out of context. For example, a friend who said “hope you’re dong well” was not making sexual advances, but rather the victim of an unfortunate typo. Also my nickname, “MJ,” a reference to my first and middle name, was flagged as a reference to the famous “gateway drug,” Mary Jane.

I told Harshavat about these misleading results, and he pointed out the option to “ignore word” or “ignore instance” to lower the frequency of irrelevant search results in the future.

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