With a new crop of 2006 graduating seniors about to make their way into the “real world,” it becomes more and more important that students are aware of their personal web pages and information that is publicly available to potential employers. This is a generation that grew up on the Internet and although students may be Internet savvy, they may not realize all the dangers that web sites hold.
In a public conference for the Society of Professional Journalists held March 31- April 1, Frank Pine, senior managing editor of the San Bernardino Sun and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, mentioned that he did not hire a potential employee due to an obscene MySpace page that was brought to his attention by a colleague.
In a later interview, however, Pine added that there were other reasons for not hiring the potential employee, which he could not discuss due to privacy issues.
Employment policy says that employers may not reveal for reasons of not hiring a potential employee due to privacy issues, said Pine.
Heather Armstrong, founder of dooce.com, doesn’t have any idea who sent an anonymous e-mail to the executives of her company, tipping them off about her blog.
Armstrong, a former web designer, said many of the stories, intended for friends, were exaggerated to be humorous. The chief executive officer of the company was not amused. Her boss and the human resources representatives called her into one of the three relatively tiny
conference rooms. They informed her that the company no longer had any use for her. They said that they didn’t like what she had expressed on her website.
Armstrong was fired for writing “unsavory” statements on her personal website, but she is not alone. Many others in various spectrums of the professional world have been fired disciplined or not hired for seemingly reprehensible comments.
David Higham of Tempe, Arizona got fired in November 2004 for writing a blog that “could undermine the integrity of the judiciary” of Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona; Ellen Simonetti of Austin, Texas was hired by Delta Airlines as a flight attendant but was quickly fired Oct. 29, 2004 for posting “inappropriate” pictures of herself in her uniform.
Joyce Park was terminated from Friendster on Aug. 30, 2004 because of her blogging. “(It’s) ironic because Friendster, of course, is a company that is all about getting people to reveal information about themselves,” she wrote in her blog.
Blogspot.com has a webpage dedicated to explaining to its bloggers the meaning of “public” and tips on how to blog while still maintaining jobs. The webpage clearly states, “When you publish a blog entry, you are broadcasting this information to a potential audience of millions.”
According to a survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management, 3 percent of companies have disciplined bloggers in comparison; about half fired or disciplined an employee for using the Net for personal use without permission.
“I’m surprised (this) hasn’t surfaced farther,” said John Arany, a career counselor at CSUN who was unaware of this phenomenon. As a career counselor he tells his students what employers look for; however, personal pages isn’t one of them.
Some workplaces don’t have a corporate policy. Benchmark Staffing, an aviation company specializing in industrial manufacturing, representative said the company doesn’t ask about blogging and Myspace type pages because it sounds personal. The representative said the company hires based on skills and “doesn’t get into hobbies and such things.”
However a registered nurse at the East Los Angeles Convalescent Hospital said otherwise. The hiring process for the hospital is very in-depth and the contentment of the staff is essential, said the RN. “If a person is not happy then we would have to offer a way out where they will be happy,” said the RN. If an employee had a personal website in which the hospital was slandered it would be considered libel and could potentially hold a lawsuit against the employee as stated very specifically in the contract, said the RN.
Both Benchmark Staffing and East Los Angeles Convalescent Hospital job listings were found through Careerbuilder.com, a website designed to help bridge employers with potential employees and vice versa. Representatives of the two companies refused to identify themselves.
People have freedom of expression but this is an issue of professionalism and what is appropriate behavior, Pine said.
“A good rule of thumb is don’t put anything on your personal page that you don’t want your CEO to see, and this will help guide you,” said Cecelia Dwyer, president of TrueCareers.com – a web-based board much like Career builder. The site best serves people with degrees and those pursuing degrees for a professional career, and has counselors offer advice to help students find jobs they are looking for.
The survey, which polled 279 human resources professionals, also indicated that blogs could potentially affect workers’ odds of landing a new job: 3 percent of firms said they read job candidates’ blogs before deciding whether to hire them.
“A good recruiter will do at least a Google search,” said Dwyer.
It is also a good idea for employees to “Google themselves” so that they know what is available to their employers. “And don’t just put in your name but also something to narrow the search to get more accurate results, i.e. your nick name or school,” Dwyer said.
The Google search can “enlighten the (interview) process when you stumble upon their bios,” she said.
“In general, you want to put your best foot forward,” said Dwyer. “Be professional in your daily life from your voicemail to your webpage.”
Still, few companies have policies that specifically mention blogging, California bars private employers from sanctioning workers for political activity. So employees cannot be fired for blogging for Bush, for instance, even if a Democrat runs your company.
“If you have a personal website, assume that we will read it,” said Pine. “Especially if you will be interacting with the public, then anything you have on the Internet is far game.”
Maliha Jafri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.