Social media presence poses a factor in workforce for SF State students

If you’ve never before regretted that 2 a.m. Facebook post about your drunken sexcapades, maybe your next boss can help you.

The social media generation has had to become conscious of what they post, not only to keep relatives from seeing them passed out with doodles on their faces, but also to keep potential employers from passing them over for a job. While graduates are acutely aware of the poor economy and lack of available jobs, some have become more alert to how their online identity could further hinder their ability to get hired.

“(Social media issues) are on the cutting edge of the law,” said Bill Sokol, SF State labor law lecturer and practicing lawyer. “There are no consistent rules that actually apply.”

Many students aren’t aware of the potential ramifications involved when posting personal information online, but those close to graduation are more selective about their image.

“I don’t put up anything that I wouldn’t want everyone to see,” said graduating communications major Mariana Woolsey, 23. “I’ve definitely gone through and deleted pictures from high school, or of immature things that I’ve done.”

Woolsey plans on pursuing a job in marketing or teaching after graduation. When asked about how her online information would play into her future job opportunities, she was at a loss.

“I have no idea how much it matters,” said Woolsey. “I feel like if you’re qualified (for the job). Nothing else matters.”

Even students further from graduation are thinking about how to lessen the potential negative effects of social media.

Freshman kinesiology major Chau Nguyen, 19, feels that it’s more useful to take control of her online image by taking advantage of available privacy settings and being aware of who she adds as a friend.

“I just don’t add my co-workers or boss,” Nguyen said. “I do think things (you post online) will come back to haunt you. I tweak my privacy settings and I’m aware of what I leave public.”

The city of Bozeman, Mont., made news in 2009 when job applicants for positions within the city were required to provide a list of personal websites, frequented chat rooms and social clubs or forums – including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, MySpace and YouTube accounts – along with each site’s corresponding username and password, according to an article published in The Register, a news website which covers worldwide science and technology events.

Such practices have been reported in other states across the country, and the California Senate is currently debating a bill that would make the practice illegal. However, active legislation can’t keep employers from checking public profiles.

“Employers are going to be very careful not to tell you about those things…(because) they can’t refuse to hire somebody because of their race, creed, national origin or mental or physical disability. Those are protected classes,” said Sokol. “No (employer) wants to admit that they looked on Facebook because if they’re in one of those classes, they don’t want to be accused of discrimination.”

Facebook has responded by saying that no one should be coerced into sharing their private information in order to get a job, referring to their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that asserts users should never share account information, especially to protect the information of their friends who may have private accounts.

“In theory you can create a private Facebook wall page that only those people that you have befriended are allowed to see what you have,” said SF State career counselor Mariko Hingston. “However, there’s nothing on Facebook that says that you can’t send around other people’s information on and it could get to other people you didn’t intend.”

Many students stop by the Career Center for help with resumes, interview strategies and general advice about which careers would best suit their skills.

Though Hingston said there is no particular field of work that is likely to vet employees to this degree, she feels that jobs which require higher levels of security or contract work are more likely to conduct background checks.

“The truth is someone is going to Google you whether you’re going on a date with them or if you’re applying for a job,” said Rebecca Jeschke, digital rights analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Just have a picture up that represents who you want people to see.”

Though there are ways to take control of an online presence to make social media a self-promotion tool, it’s always best to be aware of how your information comes across.

“First impressions count,” said Hingston. “When an employer goes on your Facebook, LinkedIn or any other social media, there will be an impression. So we’re always telling students, if you’re actively looking for work go back to all the different places you put yourself out there and either clean it up, or delete it and start over.”

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