Facebook: Put your Best Face Forward!

by: Martina Sternberg and Marie A. Soto

Facebook is, according to its own Terms of Use, an online directory that connects people through networks of academic and geographic centers, which is becoming increasingly popular among high school and college students. They use it as a means of staying in contact with their old and new friends across the globe. It seems innocent, but do they know that employers, parents and even the Secret Service have access to their Facebook? This article will address what Facebook is, how students use it, how others can use it, and most importantly, how Career Centers can educate students to use Facebook as a positive means of networking.

What is Facebook?

Facebook.com was created by Mark Zuckerberg to connect people through social networks at schools and it was made available to the public in February 2004. Since that time Facebook has become a phenomenon reaching across the world. Facebook includes very personal information, messages, and pictures of the Facebook member and friends. It is estimated Facebook already has over 3 million users and 60 % log on at least once a day.

How Do Students Use It?

Students use Facebook to stay in contact with friends. However, they "talk" with their friends as if they were behind closed doors and are unaware of how far reaching their Facebook is. The students are putting personal information online and it can and is being used in a variety of ways not intended for Facebook users. Students also put very personal and unprofessional photos on the Facebook.

How Can Non-Students And Third Parties Use Facebook For/Against Students?

According to the Facebook privacy policy, the site operators can share information with third parties; this can include any number of agencies or potential employers. As a parent, I logged into Facebook.com and found my daughter's Facebook and all of her "facebook friends." I put her name in and up popped all of her information. Stalkers, employers, parents, faculty, administrators, and any number of not so well-intentioned people could find all of a student's personal information. Students believe their conversations are just between them and their friends, but accessing Facebook is like a phone tap. It can be used for both positive and negative purposes.

What can Career Services and Placement Centers do to Inform our Students?

Career Centers should remind students to always put their "best face forward." Students have control over what they put on their Facebook and they need to be aware of how Facebook can and is being used. Students should not post anything on their Facebook that they wouldn't intend parents, potential employers or school administrators to see.

While Facebook can be seen as a potentially damaging tool, what can students do to make this a positive experience? From a career services point of view, counselors might use Facebook as a way to demonstrate how networking skills can be transferred to the job search process. The Facebook profile can better be used to connect with other students for employment leads and ideas. For example, we were somewhat astonished when we found a UTSA student on Facebook who had referred to the Career Services Jobbank and placed the Career Services link on their profile. We were overjoyed at finding at least one student who was aware of our services.

Career Services staff can teach students how student and professional organizations can be an extension of Facebook. While some organizations might receive interest and recognition through the Facebook, it is still up to the student to participate in meetings and make those face to face contacts that are so important when searching for jobs.

The Facebook can also be used as a networking tool for students who are actively searching for a job. Knowing that employers can (and sometimes do) view a potential employee's Facebook, students can include a resume and other professional information in their Facebook which would make them more marketable to employers. In the Career Services office at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the career counselors are implementing discussion of the value and the dangers of students participating in Facebook within various career planning and job search workshops and presentations.

A student who works in the Career Services office at UTSA summed things up well when she wisely reported being very cautious of Facebook, stating that she had no plans to participate or place any personal information on the site. Her concern was that it would come back to haunt her someday. She couldn't have stated more clearly the best strategy for students to use in putting their best faces forward, especially to potential employers.

We are not preaching to not use Facebook, but instead informing the students about the ramifications (both positive and negative) of using Facebook and letting students know that it is always best to put your best face forward!

If you would like to view Facebook as your students do, you can go to www.facebook.com and take a look at what your students are putting on their Facebook.

Martina Sternberg, M.Ed., has a master's degree in counseling and is in the Ph.D. program in Counselor Education and Supervision at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). A recent retiree of the US Air Force, she is the Assistant Director in the Career Services office at UTSA. She can be reached at martina.sternberg@utsa.edu.

Marie A. Soto, M.A., is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern. She works as a Career Counselor, primarily with liberal and fine arts students, at the University of Texas at San Antonio's Career Services office. She has also worked as an academic advisor at the university and community college levels. She can be reached at marie.soto@utsa.edu.

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