These HR people are looking at your profile.
Accidentally or intentionally, they are finding their way to your "25 Random Things", to your late night status update about drinking too much wine, to the photos posted by your best friend in junior high school that reveals to the world that your feathered hair style didn't work for you, even back then.
I was in a discussion with about 25 local HR executives last week and all of them were concerned about the content they found on Facebook. Almost all admitted to using Facebook for recruiting purposes (to find new candidates), or to check out potential candidates (I advised against this), and a few checked the pages of existing employees.
Some had already happened upon questionable material and had been put in the position of acting or not acting on too much information. They admitted that their organizations did not have formal policies and that they were worried that the problem would worsen (it will, with 600,000 folks joining Facebook every day).
I don't like to tax my brain thinking about HR policy, but I can offer some advice to Facebook users, especially those young folks who might not be aware that their status updates are under scrutiny.
- Watch your grammar and spelling. FB is fun and casual, but poor grammar and spelling make you look stupid, even more so than bad words.
- Speaking of $!#@^, try to avoid if possible. Ease up on the slang, if you are job hunting.
- Facebook might be a good place to connect with other single young people. It's not the place, however, to display your inner sexpot. It's like the difference between going to the club and going to church. You might meet the love of your life (or of the moment) at either, but you would be wearing different outfits.
- What you write and post is public and may be available for the world to see forever and ever.
- You have some control over who can see your profile, and what can be published about you. Every Facebook user should take a few minutes to review the Facebook Privacy Settings.
- Screen names count. And email addresses. Go to http://www.yahoo.com/ and get a free e-mail account that does not reveal your a) above-mentioned sexiness b) your prowess on WOW or c) anything quirky. Use your plain e-mail address for any job-related correspondence. In Facebook, I recommend a screen name that is just your name.
- Never, ever mention illicit drug use on Facebook (or any other social networking site). (And those who know me, know that I couldn't write this without saying JUST SAY NO.)
- Don't feel like you have to tell the world every time you get drunk. Me? I like to Twitter about great glasses of wine, especially red zinfandel. That time in Vegas I wandered the halls of the hotel for hours in search of my room (daintily clutching my high heels and a drink), only to discover that I was in the wrong hotel, well, we needn't discuss that publicly.
I don't want to take all of the fun out of Facebook. I just want folks -- especially young people and job seekers -- to know that your Facebook (and MySpace and Twitter, etc.) life is on display for all to see. And there are people out there making judgements (maybe even decisions) about you, based on your persona. I don't think any HR decisions should be based on social networking activities, but I am only one of many HR people there checking you out.