Slide Show >>Big Brother is watching—or at least that's what some undergraduate business students are starting to think. Last December, Eric Elias, a senior at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis took down anything on his Facebook profile that could remotely be seen as unprofessional because he was seeking internships. One of his friends is deactivating his account altogether while he searches for his first postgraduation job, says Elias. Austin Hollo, also a senior at Olin, says he's conscious of anything he puts into the online sphere—even e-mail, which, of course, can be forwarded to anyone.
Are these just cases of extreme paranoia? Not exactly. Recent reports and anecdotal evidence show that corporate recruiters are Googling potential employees, having interns log onto social networking sites to check out an applicant's profile, and using the online world as another way to check references. This trend, combined with the growing population of sites like Facebook and MySpace (NWS), has many young people uneasy and unsure about how to navigate a new world, where the phrase "private life" is rapidly becoming an oxymoron (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/12/06, "Facebook: Opening the Doors Wider").
B-schools don't want their students to flounder in the job pool, so administrators and professors are beginning to advise students on maintaining a professional presence on social networking sites, in e-mail, on personal Web sites, and blogs. "The 'wide' part of the phrase World Wide Web is actually the entire world," says Keith Stemple, acting director of the F. David Fowler Career Center at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C. "Even if it's password protected, recruiters have profiles, too, and can get into your groups."
UNCHANGED WAYS. Not all students are catching on. A little more than 70% of the 60 students who have so far participated in an ongoing survey for AfterCollege.com, a professional networking group that specializes in recruitment at the college level, say they continue to post the same things they always did, even though potential employers might be taking a look.
Meanwhile, about 20% of the 90 employers who have so far responded to the same survey, say they do indeed investigate new hires by visiting social networking sites. Only 6% of those employers say they've decided not to hire someone based on what they saw online, but another 26% responded to that same question with "no comment." "Students should be more concerned than they are," says Roberto Angulo, CEO of AfterCollege.com.
There are ways, however, to use the Internet for good, not evil. If you follow a few simple do's and don'ts, you might even be able to impress an employer who discovers you online. Here are some tips on how to maintain an online presence—and still keep in touch with your friends through social networking sites—without ruining your future before it starts. And if you have any tips to share with fellow job seekers, check out our forum discussion (http://forums.businessweek.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx) on "Online Experiences."
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