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Self-censoring online now part of job-hunting process

Wednesday - 11/6/2013, 3:51am  ET

laptop college (WTOP/Sarah Weimar)
College students often try to clean-up their Internet personas as they begin the job-hunting process. (WTOP/Sarah Weimar)

By Sarah Weimar, special to wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va. - Privacy experts say nothing is private on social media. Many people try to clean-up their online persona, including college students about to enter the job market.

"I think you should really put some thought behind everything you post on social media," says Sean Cabrera, a student at George Mason University.

"Everything you post reflects on the character that you have."

Several students advise considering what future employers and family members will think before hitting "Post."

"It's funny when people will post pictures from a party, and they'll blur out alcohol bottles, or they'll try to hide them behind their backs, but it's very clear what they're doing," says student Molly Rhodes.

In addition to alcohol, some students say they avoid profanity, political statements or anything that could be viewed as negative by a prospective employer.

Growing up with social media, the students say they have learned to manage their public image online, and most believe they have squeaky-clean profiles.

Would-be employers disagree.

According to a new survey from Persona, an online utility that alerts users of potentially negative online postings, "57 percent of college students do not think they have inappropriate content on their Facebook, yet in a previous industry survey on CNN, 69 percent of recruiters have rejected candidates based on negative information online."

This disconnect is a problem for would-be job hunters, because a 2012 Jobvite survey shows "92 percent of recruiters plan on using social media for recruiting, emphasizing the nearly unanimous value placed on candidate's social networks."

Yet recruiters aren't only looking for red flag postings by young job seekers. They also scour social media to gauge a student's positive involvement in a community.

Alex Hinton hopes his postings will show he's well-rounded.

"A picture or maybe a group shot of me and some friends, or maybe like a cool music video I found, something like that, something I think people will really enjoy and I just want to share with others," says Hinton.

"Something I would post on Facebook would have to be something that is either funny or witty, that is not offensive to anyone, or it would have to be a photo of some accomplishment of mine that I think is important," says Mason student Colby Eliades.

In general, the rule of thumb among college students is to highlight the positive, and keep the negative offline. They only show what that they want their audience to know about.

"At least take a step back, look at it, and see if it is appropriate," says Sean Cabrera.

"If you have to question it at all, it's best not to do it."

WTOP's Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

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