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Guess who's looking at your Facebook page?

College admissions officers and employers increasingly Google applicants. What they find may not be something you'd like them to see.

She posted her Facebook status update on a Friday night in July. By Monday, she was fired.

At the end of a long day waiting tables at Texas Roadhouse in Findlay, Ohio, Kirsten Kelly complained on Facebook about the small tips she'd received from customers. One happened to be a former schoolmate and a Facebook friend. When the customer saw the post, she printed it out and showed it to Kelly's managers.

"I knew that they could have yelled at me for that," Kelly, 22, told a local TV station. "But I didn't think they could fire me for posting that."

Kelly learned the hard way what young people often don't realize: What you post online can have real consequences. A growing number of employers and college admissions officers Google applicants and scrutinize them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites, where many young people share personal information in what some mistakenly believe is relative privacy.

In a recent survey, over a quarter of admissions officers at hundreds of top-ranked U.S. colleges said they'd used Facebook and Google to vet applicants. Of those, 30 percent said they'd found something online that negatively affected a student's chance of gaining admission, up from 12 percent in 2011, according to the Kaplan Test Prep survey.

Companies and schools have always conducted background checks on applicants. But where once a phone call did the job, now an online search is the norm.

"A Google search of your name is the new handshake," says Dan Schawbel, a social media specialist. "People are already searching for you online even before you meet them in person."

With schools receiving thousands of applications annually, most admissions offices don't have time to check every candidate online. But if something in the application raises a red flag, a Google search is likely to follow.

"We respect the privacy of the students and their online lives," says Paul Marthers, vice president for enrollment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. "But if there's something that doesn't add up or you feel like you've been tipped off to something, then it's within your purview to check further."

This happens rarely at Rensselaer, to about 15 students out of 15,000 who apply every year. But Web searches have turned up cases of plagiarism, Marthers says. And even accusations of assaults that counselors and teachers didn't feel comfortable talking about to admissions officers, but hinted at in a phone call.

At Pitzer College in Claremont, California, an applicant was denied admission because of offensive comments he had posted on Facebook about one of his teachers. A current Pitzer student noticed the comments and notified the admissions office.

"We thought, this is not the kind of person we want in our community," says Angel Perez, Pitzer's dean of admission. "We didn't admit the student."

Searching Social Media

In the job market, vetting by using social media appears even more widespread. More than 90 percent of recruiters check candidates' social media profiles, according to a Jobvite survey of thousands of U.S. companies.

At ZanderMax Technologies, a California placement firm, a search on social media is the final step before calling a candidate in for an interview, says Samuel Barnes, the director of talent acquisition.

"It's important to make sure that you present yourself in a professional manner on your social networking site if you're looking for a job," Barnes says. Some are skeptical that recruiters and admissions officers do as much Web sleuthing as polls suggest. "They simply don't have the time for it," says Richard Avitabile, who spent 11 years in New York University's admissions office. Nevertheless, many guidance counselors are urging students to Google themselves, review their social media profiles, remove inappropriate photos, and boost privacy settings. Kimberly Barnhart, director of college advising at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vermont, even "friends" her students on Facebook to check--beyond the privacy wall--that they're behaving responsibly.

"If I see something that concerns me, I approach them and I say, 'Are you sure this is a message that you want to be sending out to the world about yourself?"' Barnhart says.

Jeff Olson, who conducted the Kaplan Test Prep survey, has one piece of advice for students: "Think first, tweet later."

Emma Sullivan, a 20-year-old student at Kansas State University, agrees. When she was a senior in high school, a tweet she wrote regarding then-Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas almost got her a disciplinary action because her principal deemed it offensive. Two years later, the incident is still all over the Internet if you Google her name. And she worries it might affect her chances of getting a job.

"Your tweets and your Facebook posts and whatever other social media you have is really out there," Sullivan says. "It's out there permanently, it's out there for everyone to see."

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Tips on how to keep a good online profile

1. Think before posting Ask yourself: "Is this something I want my parents, teachers, or employers to read?

2. Boost your privacy settings Make sure what you publish on Facebook is visible only to your friends.

3. Remember what's public Everyone can see your profile photo, no matter how "private" your posts are.

4. Google yourself If you don't like what you see, clean it up!

5. Highlight the good stuff Post clips, photos, and links that show who you are and what you do best.

With reporting by Natasha Singer of The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:MEDIA
Author:Potenza, Alessandra
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 6, 2014
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