By Jeff Kaplan, University of Pittsburgh
Everywhere you look, a new online community seems to be taking the world by storm. As these online communities ingrain themselves in our lives, so, too, does the complexity of how they can affect us professionally. Online communities can be amazing tools to help us connect with our friends and family and express ourselves in ways never before possible. However, online communities do have a darker side, and they sometimes derail even the most promising employment opportunities.
One of the best features of online communities is their ability to connect people. Many of us have reconnected with old friends through an online community. Besides their social value, online communities can also provide a great deal of professional utility. "I have utilized online communities to my advantage since graduating college. A student from one of my undergraduate classes contacted me recently, and we've begun work on a startup venture," says Joseph Dopirak, a market research analyst at AMTV. Stories like this have become increasingly common and prove that online communities can provide benefits to those who use them effectively.
But these online communities do have drawbacks that need to be understood. Almost everyone has heard a horror story about the unfortunate soul who lost a job or internship opportunity due to a picture from a reckless college party. These stories have occurred more frequently, and they confirm that employers are using online communities as a filtering device during their search for new employees.
Many companies, especially accounting and financial services firms, rely on their professional reputation. When they see applicants who post inappropriate content on their profiles, the firms wonder how that content could affect their client relationships. This sentiment has prompted some students, like University of Pittsburgh accounting major Brant Hawk, to take action. Hawk has limited the settings on his Facebook profile and claims, "As soon as I begin applying for full-time employment next fall, I am disabling my profile completely." While Hawk's actions may seem extreme, it's difficult to argue with someone who takes the necessary precautions to protect his or her career.
If you want to completely protect yourself from potential employers accessing your profile, the most effective action is to completely disable that profile. However, if you value the networking and freedom of expression that online communities provide, simply monitor the content you post. In addition, most online communities have adjustable privacy settings; set these according to your desired privacy level.
It's great to maintain some sort of online community profile, because you never know where your next great career opportunity will arise. Who knows, maybe one day you'll create the next Fortune 500 company and an online community will be the catalyst.
About the Author
Jeff Kaplan is a senior accounting and finance major at the University of Pittsburgh, a student member of the New Jersey Society of CPAs and an NJSCPA scholarship recipient. Reprinted with permission from the NJSCPA.