University of Colorado senior Kia Grass is a role model for high school girls in Broomfield, has two jobs and is planning to apply to law school, so keeping a close eye on her Facebook profile is important in achieving her future goals.

Grass said she knows that posting pictures with alcohol or photos of risque Halloween costumes are not appropriate, but she also believes in being herself and wants to maintain her personality online.

"Facebook is a fun thing where you get to talk to your friends and share pictures and inside jokes," Grass said. "I think it's still OK to do that." 

Lisa Severy, director of CU's Career Services, said it's OK to be yourself online, but maintaining your online profile is necessary when students' futures are on the line.

"Social media can be very helpful in terms of enlisting your network for finding opportunities, flushing out your story to potential employers and finding out about opportunities," Severy said. "It can also be problematic in the intersection of work/life balance."

Severy said online presence is about building a brand.

"With so many candidates looking for opportunities, employers use all tools at their disposal to learn more about and differentiate between candidates," Severy said. "Online profiles are right at their fingertips."     

Photos

Grass browsed through her profile Monday and found that many of her photos on Facebook included her making a silly face with friends or family, including her cover photo where she is sticking out her tongue.

"That's just me," Grass said.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado senior Kia Grass’s Facebook profile and cover pictures.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado senior Kia Grass's Facebook profile and cover pictures. (Picasa)


Severy said these photos, as long as they're not inappropriate, could have more of an effect on a student looking for a conservative position. However, it may show personality for a candidate applying for a creative job.

"Generally speaking, I think employers know that sites like Facebook are personal and if the postings aren't inappropriate, I wouldn't worry too much," Severy said. 

Grass's profile photo is of her on Halloween, but because it's a head shot you can only see the makeup and jewels on her face and not the whole costume, which Grass said was a little racy.

"If I were working with this student, I would ask her what types of positions and industries she's looking to break into," Severy said. "If creativity and passion are assets in that job search, then I wouldn't worry about it too much."

Statuses and tweets

Grass said she is careful about what she posts on Facebook but she is a little more liberal on Twitter, because she doesn't have as large a network viewing her tweets. 

Mostly her personal thoughts, Grass said she's tweeted about not wanting to go to her job as a server at Old Chicago or complaining about the stress of school work.

On Dec.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado senior Kia Grass’s Tweet about work.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado senior Kia Grass's Tweet about work. (Picasa)
28 she tweeted: "Love getting called into work early #notafan I wish I could go #running instead #fml." She also tweeted "1st test in college where the exam matched the review sheet word for word... hopefully an evil deceiver isn't at work #whyamIincollege," on Feb. 16.

Severy said these kinds of comments could reflect negatively on a student's work ethic.

"Employers who take the time to search online and gather additional information about candidates are looking for insights into character," Severy said. "Posts that make people look lazy, unmotivated, whiny, or generally negative will not reflect well."

Tagged by friends

CU junior Sheena Feiler said she doesn't post much to her own Facebook, but she does occasionally have friends posting to her profile.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado junior Sheena Feiler’s Facebook privacy settings.
A screen shot taken Monday of University of Colorado junior Sheena Feiler's Facebook privacy settings. (Picasa)
 

Feiler said her friends often tag her in photos or comments and she always checks to see if she wants them to be viewable by the public or only by certain friends.

"I would never have a photo of me holding a beer with a label -- but a cup is different," Feiler said.

Grass said she is more trustworthy of her friends online. She said her friends understand that employers are on Facebook and there's a kind of "friend code" to what should be shared publicly.

"It's not me posting those things anyway, so I don't feel like it really affects how I look," Grass said. "I didn't write it, they did."

But the occasional post does slip through, like Grass being tagged in a friend's video of another person being loud and crazy while Grass laughed in the background, which was posted on her profile on Jan. 27.

Severy said while it may be clear that a post or photo was shared by someone else, it is still a reflection on the student.

"Comments from friends reflect on you as a person and as an employee," Severy said. "I would recommend screening any and all comments, asking friends who tend to do that more often to be aware of the job search, and even blocking folks that are not cooperating."

Privacy settings

Severy said privacy settings can be helpful in allowing students to deviate from their brand identity to enjoying the benefits of sharing with friends online.

"The first step is to tightly control as many privacy settings as possible," Severy said. "That won't control what's on other people's pages, but at least it's a start."

Grass said she has privacy settings turned on for her Facebook profile, including group settings, which allows her to sort her Facebook friends and apply specific restrictions to the group.

"I have a group of friends that can see everything but everyone else can only see certain things," Grass said.

As a high school basketball coach, Grass said she is responsible for setting a good example. While she feels her Facebook interactions are generally tame, she included her team in a group in order to limit what they can view.

She also has a group for family members and older-generation Facebook friends who might find offense to her postings, even though Grass said they're not intended in that way.

Feiler said she has even taken her  privacy settings a step further, shutting out anyone who she has not approved as a friend from viewing her information.

People who are not friends with Feiler can see her profile picture, her interests and likes and who she has recently friended. None of her status updates or photos will appear for the general public.

Erring on the conservative side

Feiler said she uses her privacy settings because she doesn't want her profile to seem fake to employers.

"It would be weird to have a perfect profile, because if you're editing it that much it seems like you're hiding something," Feiler said. "That might be worse than if you are just yourself. At least that isn't as bad as they might imagine if you're being too conservative."

But Severy said erring on the conservative side is always the smart decision for students seeking employment.

"As with most everything else in the job search, it is better to err on the side of being too formal or too conservative," Severy said.