When Leslie Miller, 22, showed up this summer for her first day at StartingBloc, a midtown nonprofit, she was surprised at how intimately her boss seemed to know her. “Right from the start, he was teasing me about Duncan Sheik and interpretive dance. When I finally asked him how he knew so much about me, he said that of course he’d looked at my Friendster profile prior to hiring me. It really caught me off guard.”
She’s not alone. The first generation weaned online is now graduating from college and discovering that their virtual lives are available for anyone to see—including prospective employers. According to a study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project this month, 57 percent of teenagers who go online create content for the Internet, with one-third sharing self-authored content such as photographs or stories. Social networking Websites such as Friendster (launched in 2002), MySpace (2003), and Facebook (2004) allow members to post often-embarrassing personal profiles. MySpace alone boasts more than 30 million members (which is why Rupert Murdoch bought its parent company in July for $580 million). Take Jacob George, 22, just out of Tufts and looking for architecture jobs in New York. His Facebook profile features him drunk, wrapped in plastic bags. “Oh, no,” he groans upon realizing that firms may have surveyed him in such a state.
“A friend of mine at a private-equity company called me and asked if I was friends with a girl I went to school with,” says an employee at a big-time consulting firm. “He said, ‘Oh, we’re Facebooking all the people who are applying to our company and I’m contacting her friends to check her out.’ ” Though it’s not formal policy, this employee says it’s “rampant” among “hipper” recruiters, who are often Website members themselves.
“It wasn’t exactly how we originally designed it to be used,” says Facebook spokesman Chris Hughes. But he thinks users are savvy enough to know that cyberspace isn’t a secret hideaway. “We got complaints,” admits Friendster spokesman Jeff Roberto (both sites have settings that can restrict who can view a profile). Friendster is also trying to position itself as a job marketplace, launching a “network classifieds” site where members can post résumés that link to their personal profiles.
Snooping in cyberspace doesn’t interest everyone. “People have many aspects to their personalities and their lives, and someone can behave in a perfectly professional manner in a corporate setting and that’s all I need from them,” says Shelley Hainer, senior recruiter at the Futurestep division of the head-hunting firm Korn/Ferry.
Perhaps. Still, a nice picture never hurts. “Particularly good-looking people get an extra boost,” says the consulting-firm employee. “You know, ‘Oh, I gotta interview her, she’s smoking.’ I have tons and tons of friends who this has happened to.”