Scrubbing Facebook

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q: I will graduate this year with a degree in accounting, and I understand that potential employers might review my Facebook account as part of the interview process. With this in mind, I’ve gone through my account and removed potentially embarrassing pictures and comments, but I’m not actually sure what other type of content might impede my job opportunities. Can you shed some light on what they might look for, or provide advice as to how I can ensure that my social media account doesn’t negatively affect my job-hunting efforts?

A: You don’t want your Facebook content to jeopardize potential job opportunities; therefore, you were wise to scour your Facebook page and remove obviously disparaging content, but this scrubbing measure might not be enough. A prospective employer might formulate opinions about you based on fairly innocuous details such as pictures, cartoons, or comments you liked; venues where some of your pictures were taken (such as a bar or fraternity house); or your number of friends. The seemingly vanilla jokes and funny pictures you have posted might brand you as insensitive in the eyes of others. Even the movies you like in your profile might work against you if the reviewer didn’t like those movies or the actors involved. To be safe, it is probably in your best interest to lock down your Facebook and other social media accounts, at least until you complete the interview and hiring process. Presented below is a list of possible measures you could take to help ensure your Facebook content doesn’t make you less hirable.

Deactivate your Facebook account. Of course, an extreme option would be to close your Facebook account, but because Facebook can be a valuable tool for staying connected with your friend base, you may not want to exercise this option.

Change your Facebook displayed name. In anticipation of job hunting, some college seniors drop their last names and use their first and middle names instead. This allows you to continue using Facebook for social purposes but may make it more difficult for prospective employers to locate and review your Facebook page. Historically, Facebook has employed a “real name” rule that requires users to use their real names as they would appear on their driver’s license; but unofficially I know of many who have used their first and middle name for years with no consequence. As a test, in July 2014, I changed my Facebook name to James Carlton (which is my real first and middle name, but not my complete real name), and except for three friends asking me about the change, I’ve noticed no difference. In October 2014, Facebook relaxed this rule a little and now allows users to display stage names or established nicknames. Be aware that Facebook limits you to changing your display name only once every 90 days, so once you’ve made a change, you won’t be able to change it again for three months.

Adjust your Facebook settings. Another option is to lock down your Facebook content from the homepage’s upper-right corner by clicking the menu and selecting Who can see my stuff?, as pictured below.

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Under the section labeled Who can see my future posts, make one of the following selections:

a. Friends. In most cases, the Friends setting will prevent a prospective employer from viewing your Facebook page (provided you are not friends with the prospective employer), but this setting is not foolproof. Even with this setting adjustment, employers can still see your profile, friends list, and any pictures posted if one of the employer’s friends happens to be tagged in the picture or comment. Further, a determined reviewer may contact one of your friends in an effort to gain access to your Facebook content.

b. Only Me. The safest option is to select Only Me, which will prevent anyone else from viewing your Facebook content.

c. Custom. As discussed in the November 2011 Technology Q&A item “Semiblock Your Facebook Wall” (page 79), you can customize who sees your Facebook page by using Facebook’s list capabilities to categorize your friends, and then block selected lists from your wall.

Edit your Facebook profile content. Historically, Facebook allowed you to hide your profile or render it unsearchable, but no longer. As of October 2013, anyone can find your account online; therefore, you should review your profile and consider editing or deleting all personal profile information.

J. Carlton Collins (carlton@asaresearch.com) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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