Dear You,

I will admit – I do use Facebook, and I do have a MySpace account, as I’m sure you do, too. Right? They’re both great for keeping in touch with old friends and family members and getting the 411 on people you know, but I am concerned that these social networking tools are getting out of hand and can harm aspiring professionals if they’re not careful. CORRECTION: Aspiring professionals can harm themselves with these social networking tools if they’re not careful.

Yes, there are a few basic rules for safely using the Internet that would, of course, be applied while using these sites, but I think that users are more dangerous to themselves than cybersphere. Most people – I’ll stop using “young” because any and everyone uses these things now, are probably unaware of how many people can access their social network profiles. And we all know that some of the things up on Facebook aren’t things we’d want to pull up in front of our parents or grandparents, let alone let a potential employer . And that’s just it! Employers CAN, DO and WILL see the profiles of potential candidates.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to do research on potential candidates using these social networking sites. I mean, what better way to get to know someone you are considering hiring than by checking out the place they spend a whole bunch of time. Let’s be honest – we all probably spend way too much time on Facebook writing on each others walls from our Blackberrys and letting the world know what we’re doing in our statuses.

It stinks for people who have incriminating pictures and colorful language strewn about their pages, but I must admit, it’s a smart move for employers because it’s 1. cheap, actually FREE 2. anonymous and 3. relatively easy to do.

Honestly, why not err on the side of caution here, people? Or, better yet, why not err at all? We know what the right thing to do is! I don’t know how many classes and seminars I’ve been to that politely remind people to be mindful of the images and persona they portray of themselves on the Internet. When submitting an application for an leadership organization, I was asked to bring a print out of my Facebook profile.

A few rules of thumb for maintaining professionalism on the Internet.
1. If you wouldn’t want your parents/grandparents to see it, don’t post it.
2. Ask, “What would my professor/mentor/etc. think if they saw this picture?”
3. Consider the first impression you’re leaving on people who have never met you before.
4. Be careful of who you “befriend.” There are crazies out there, and spammers, too.
5. Erase friends crazy, inappropriate and offensive comments from your walls, or consider deleting them altogether if it’s too much to manage.
6. Don’t post pictures of you doing illegal activities.
7. Be considerate and do not purposefully offend others with ignorant pictures, posts, etc.

Some of this, to me at least, seems pretty basic to Internet safety, but even more so to social networking safety. I’m not saying you have to be Simple Sally, by any means, express yourself, but do consider what your Internet image says about you as a person and professional. Click here to find out more about how to use Facebook professionally.

It’s a small world after all…