Could Staying Off Facebook Hurt You?

By Features LearnVest

Raise your hand if you’ve heard that an improper Facebook post could hurt your chances with a potential employer. (Well, okay, you don’t actually have to raise your hand.)

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But have you heard that not having a Facebook could be just as harmful?

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The Daily Mail reports that people without Facebook accounts may be regarded by employers, and even psychologists, as “suspicious.” The Mail writes about “the suspicion that not being on Facebook, which has become so normal among young adults, is a sign that you’re abnormal and dysfunctional, or even dangerous.”

And therefore unhire-able.

But, after all, career experts have been cautioning us to lock our profiles up tight for a long time now, so employers don’t find anything they don’t like. But have things changed? Can not having a Facebook profile hinder our job prospects?

What Do Employers Really Think?

It seems as though a “shocking” new statistic about what Facebook means to employers is released monthly. In 2008, CareerBuilder.com found that 20% of employers admitted to checking the social network profiles of potential hires.  In 2010, the number increased 53%. In 2012, it’s 37%. So, even though it appears to be less common than it was two years ago, employers are looking us up online.

But what are they hoping to see? And what happens if they don’t see anything–if virtually, you don’t exist?

According to David Eichle, who makes hiring decisions at David and Sam PR (he’s the Creative Director and Co-Founder), the Daily Mail’s claim isn’t so far off-base. “If I’m researching a potential employee younger than 50, I’d be disturbed by lack of a Facebook profile,” he says. “Anyone who isn’t savvy enough to know that they should maintain a basic presence online might not be savvy enough to know other things.”

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But on the other side of things, Paul Thompson, owner of surveillance company Reel Time Imaging, thinks an applicant without a Facebook profile is “wonderful.” He explains, “When I see your resume, or meet you, I believe everything that’s there. It’s up to you to slip up or lower my expectations.” Not having a profile or maintaining a basic one lessens your chances of such a slip-up. “We can teach you skills,” he adds, “but we can’t teach you character.”

Other hiring managers we consulted agree. “If [the candidates] don’t have Facebook accounts, I’m thrilled,” confides Bruce Hurwitz, Presidend and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “My gut tells me that they are serious individuals.”

And then there’s the in-between: “In our industry, clients come to us for digital expertise,” explains Scott Bishop, VP of Strategy at digital ad sales company Phenom Blue. “So if you don’t have the basics (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) it raises a question.” He explains the candidates he usually hires have even more of an online presence. “We look for indications of initiative or passion, like if you have a Tumblr as a writer or you’re on Pinterest because you’re interested in design–we look for that.”

HR Business Partner Caleb Leiker of career site The Ladders supports that thinking: “If a candidate isn’t using Facebook as a professional networking tool, it’s best left hidden or secured by privacy settings anyway. As a recruiter, I should only be able to find a candidate’s professional-facing profiles online.”

The Bottom Line?

Let’s keep things in perspective: The mere existence of a Facebook profile won’t make or break your job search. And the experts disagree on whether having a Facebook profile helps or hurts your odds of getting the job. And, obviously, if you’re applying to work in social media, the standards for you will be a little different.

RELATED: One woman shares: ‘Why I Quit Facebook’

If you want to make sure you get it right by as many people as possible, your safest bet seems to be maintaining a basic profile, with your name, hometown and an appropriate profile photo … sans constant updates or compromising photos. Remember, even if your settings are “friends only,” you never know who those friends might be.

At the very least, before putting yourself out there or applying for a job, run your profile through a site like socioclean.com, which basically scans your profile for anything that could be objectionable.

If you’d like to go the extra step to be conservative with your Facebook presence, without deleting your profile entirely, you might want to disable your wall. After all, while everything you publish has been carefully vetted, the funny video a well-meaning friend pops onto your wall–er, timeline–can be inappropriate. Easy fix? Make it impossible. Friends who need to tell (or show) you something can still send you a private message. Or, you know, an email.

Read this to tighten up your Facebook privacy settings and to disable your wall.

If you’re considering leaving Facebook (for any reason), here are instructions to temporarily deactivate or delete your account.