Would Employers “Like” Your Facebook Profile?

Social media factoring into your job search has become a common discussion lately. There is a lot of debate on whether your social media presence plays a role in gaining employment. I recently read an article on Learnvest.com written by Libby Kane titled “Could Staying off Facebook Hurt You?” that raises many questions about identity, authenticity, privacy and voyeurism.

What I find interesting about Kane’s article is that she takes a 360-degree approach to this topic. That is to say, while her own discourse is consistent, she provides alternative perspectives.

I would argue that Kane frames her argument with a social shaping discourse. In her book “Personal Connections In The Digital Age” Nancy Baym describes social shaping as “a middle ground ,” (44) meaning it is somewhere between technological determinism – technology alone influences us – and social construction of technology – we have all the control.  I think her discourse becomes abundantly clear when she states, “the mere existence of a Facebook profile won’t make or break your job search. And the experts disagree on whether having a Facebook profile helps or hurts your odds of getting a job.”

Kane’s statement is a clear balance between technological determinism and social construction discourse, taking neither side of the argument. But I think what is key in her choice of words is her use of existence. For me, it raises this question: to exist, do we need to maintain an identity in the physical world and the digital world?

Kane does not ask that question, but she answers it in a roundabout way by saying “your safest bet seems to be maintaining a basic profile.” So in other words, she isn’t sure, but better safe than sorry. Therefore she surrenders to the notion that our existence may be defined by the convergence of both worlds.

Keeping that in mind, she does imply that your identity within the space is yours to control, and what you broadcast is up to you. However, the technology does provide the means for influence. So you probably should consider what you broadcast. She offers prescriptions for how to present yourself within the space, and consider the content you allow others to see.

While some of her prescriptions seem like common sense, to some, it may not.

Kidding aside, instructions on how to present oneself within the space raise questions about authenticity.

This idea of conforming to a standard presentation of self reminds me of what Michael Wesch says about authenticity in his video“An anthropological introduction to YouTube.” Like Youtube, Facebook allows people a freedom to be honest about who they are.  Therefore, you could claim that if we must replicate a common look, we are abandoning authenticity, and the space is no longer a platform to be honest about who we are.

Kane’s article also raises questions about privacy. Again, what is true with Youtube is true with Facebook. Wesch makes the point that sometimes content that is intended to be private can become public. Therefore, when we post content on Facebook, we should ask ourselves who may see it, and who do you want to see it? This goes beyond what you want employers to see, you need to ask yourself how much of you do you want to share with literally everyone?

For some, being honest to themselves, that is being authentic, is sharing intimate details of their physical and emotional selves. Others may choose a more conservative approach in maintaining their honest virtual identity. Or they may not have an online identity at all. Therefore I think there should be no expectations on how you should present yourself, or what content you allow others to see.

Voyeurism is also at play here. The mere suggestion that employers are using Facebook to check out applicants illustrates that employers are on the outside looking in. Wesch points out how a social network like YouTube lends itself to that by providing a window to gaze into without being seen or identified. Facebook also has the same potential, and, as Kane illustrates, some employers are taking advantage of the opportunity to peek in on a candidate.

While I see voyeurism as a natural occurrence given the “affordances” (44) of the medium, I don’t think we should be alarmed by the thought of human resources specialists stalking our wall. And I imagine that future discourses on this will sway more towards the domestication of technology. That is to say that employers checking out our social media pages will become a routine process that people will grow less weary of.

I was a teenager in the 90s (I know you can’t believe it with my fresh face, and boyish charm). I had American Online in 1993 and became a “netizen” immediately. The Internet became the “thing” soon after, and there was a lot of argument over whether it would be a utopian or dystopian medium, and leaned towards technological determinism. However, now I seem to find more articles like Kane’s that point to a shift towards a balanced discourse. One in which evidence is given that technology provides tools for influence, but we still have choices. I also think that we are organically developing into a state where the number of netizens outweighs the number analogue citizens. So many of the anxieties revolving around social networking technology may lessen over time.

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7 comments

  1. I feel a bit odd commenting on an article written for a college course but its public so why not! I really enjoyed reading this article and it is really making me think about the relationship between the “analog” world and the “digital” world. Nice job! And thank you for the link as well!

  2. Danna Shapiro · · Reply

    In response to your question of whether we need to be present within both the physical and digital world, I would agree with you with a loud and hearty “Absolutely,” though, obviously, with care and common sense, as you said.

    In my experience and opinion, to resist extending your presence to a digital realm will end up hurting you and your relationships. For example, I know this guy (happens to be an ex) who I jokingly call a purist because he hates using phones–be it for texting or calling–and prefers to have conversations in person. While that’s great and all, it became inconvenient and impractical and ended up hurting our relationship because I would go days without hearing from him. He viewed it as “not real conversation” or at least not AS real because it wasn’t face to face. But like Prof. P-S said the other day, there should be no distinction between real life and online nowadays.

    To disregard the benefits of the technology that’s available to us and only embrace the downsides is silly and unrealistic. People should, to whatever degree, adopt the technologies afforded to us (responsibly, of course. Common sense is a good thing, people). Like you said and like Kane seemed to allude to, better safe than sorry.

  3. I would agree that taking a safe approach is prudent. However, I am still perplexed by what our existence means if we do not exist in the digital space. Certainly you exist in the physical sense, but is that existence minimized by the connections lost in the digital realm?

    Your real life example is an interesting application in how the convergence in both worlds can round out a individual and his or her connections. It raises questions of which communication method is more honest or authentic. In a a face-to-face situation do you hold back or offer more, and likewise within a digital situation?

    Personally I cannot imagine not utilizing the technology. I have been fortunate enough to see digital technologies evolve from a very elementary state. And I have always been at or near or the front of the line to get my hands on many of them. Given that, it is even harder for me to fathom resisting certain technologies.

  4. I definitely agree with you that an employer’s use of SNS to look at future employees is an example of the “affordances” of SNS, but at the same time, I still think it can be a prime example of voyeurism as well. From personal experience- I walked in on my boss stalking some pics of me at prom, which clearly doesn’t have any relevance to my ability to decorate cakes- I would definitely say employers take advantage of these affordances, though, by putting this content online, we are sort of asking for it. If anything, I think it lends itself to the question of privacy- what should and shouldn’t be posted as public content on SNS sites for the world to see. I think it speaks to the idea of an online identity, which many of our class readings have touched upon (Boyd, An Anthropological Approach to YouTube, etc.), in that the content we chose to post online shapes our online identity, and it also raises the issue of privacy. Where do you stand on what information we should keep private versus what is acceptable to post online? Personally, I believe that we should all work under the assumption that anything we say/post on an SNS, regardless of what privacy settings we may have in place, has the potential to become public; therefore, I practice extreme caution with what I write/say. I know not everyone shares the same views (ahem, Lindsay Lohan: http://www.tmz.com/2012/09/17/lindsay-lohan-amanda-bynes-jail-twitter/). Maybe, if celebs (and everyday netizens) practiced greater caution with what was posted, we wouldn’t even need to worry about the voyeuristic potential of certain SNS sites.

  5. I agree that this is a glaring example of voyeurism. And you illustrate an excellent example of how the affordances can be taken advantage of.

    To answer your question, I think it depends. I think everyone should carefully consider how much they share, and own the decisions they make once they commit. However, I think you can make different decisions based on the space. I think a space like facebook affords more informal presentation, whereas LinkedIn is more formal. This is generally the rule I follow, however, my facebook security settings are pretty amped up. So I am playing it safe – proving I exist in the virtual world as well as the physical. That said, my facebook isn’t really that scandalous, it may even border on boring. That is being generous, unless you happen to be into snarky unprovoked commentary and ironic news articles, it is definitely boring.

  6. brittawelch · · Reply

    It’s interesting that Libby Kane advises to keep a “basic profile” on Facebook. Nowadays, social media is so integrated into our every day lives that it would almost be strange to an employer if you didn’t have a Facebook profile. It is extremely important to realize that potential employers are actually going to look at your online profile and will make judgements on the type of person you build yourself to be online.

    In reference to Slater’s concept of disembodiment, our identity online is independent of our physical identity. We are able to create an image of ourselves through our social media that does not rely on our physical self. What happens when our online profile portrays us in a completely different way than we actually are in person? What is our authentic self, our online profile or the way we are in person? Although these questions cannot be answered very easily, it is most important to realize we have complete control over the information we show to the public; the way we shape our online identity is up to us.

  7. I think a “basic profile” is an extreme measure. The most important thing in an employment process is to stand out and be remembered. Now obviously you shouldn’t scare them away with an outlandish profile pic, but I don’t think you should hold back from expressing yourself in a PG rated manner. I would also argue that it depends on your vocation too. If you are rocking an extreme goth profile pic and applying to Goldman Sachs, they may pass. And likewise in that if you are applying to be a punk rock magazine writer then you probably shouldn’t look like you shop exclusively at Rugby.

    I agree that our identity is up to us, but I also see a lot of social norms that many people try to emulate or perform. A phenomenon like the duck face for instance is an interesting case study into identity trends within SNS. For over 150 years people never felt the need to pose with a duck face, and then it seemed like overnight it became a cultural norm on Myspace and Facebook. Have people been lying to themselves all these years and social media finally allowed them to liberate their inner duck? Probably not, so it seems like our online identity can be shaped by a virtual community, just as our physical identity often is.

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