STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The popularity of social networking sites like MySpace has skyrocketed in recent years, not to mention online dating services. Of course, there is always a risk that an employer or a potential employer may read what you post about yourself.
To talk about how online personal profiles can affect you in the workplace, we've called Stephen Viscusi. He's CEO of the Viscusi Group, which is a headhunting firm based in Manhattan, which is where we found him.
Welcome to the program.
STEPHEN VISCUSI: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: Basics first. How much does an employer have a right to know about you?
VISCUSI: If it's on the Internet, its free game. They have a lot of access to everything, whether you're on one of these public sites or even if they Google you. If it's out there, they have a right to find out about it.
INSKEEP: And does that mean the employer might find out about things that they could not ask about in a job interview?
VISCUSI: Absolutely. Like your sexuality, which is often on MySpace or Friendster connection. They can find out about how many kids you have, your family, who you're looking for, even what your habits are. And by the way, it's no longer a chance that they might find out. Many human resource departments are actively pursuing these sites to find out all the questions that they can't legally ask you.
INSKEEP: Well, that's a question that I had is how widespread it really is that someone is looking up the MySpace profile for a job applicant.
VISCUSI: It's very common. Everyone's sort of snoopy and interested in finding out all the things that we shouldn't know about everybody else. So it's almost a voyeuristicy thing that you want to go on the MySpace thing and see, gee - I'm looking for this or I'm into that or these are my favorite books, or how many times I watch Desperate Housewives during the week.
INSKEEP: One of our staff members went onto MySpace.com and looked at some of the personal profiles. And some of the confessions that people made about themselves, things that they say they do - one person said that they leave dirty messages on the fridge using that fridge poetry, the magnetic words you can put in different orders on the refrigerator.
VISCUSI: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
INSKEEP: Would that be a problem?
VISCUSI: Well, I think it could be a problem, depending upon the perception of the company and really how out there they are. If you're applying at Starbucks it may not be a problem. But if you're applying at GM or IBM, it may be a problem. It's really...
INSKEEP: What if somebody says I'm obsessed with the Black Dahlia Murder, which someone apparently did say?
VISCUSI: I think that that's a sign that, just by human nature, any human resources person cannot overlook objectively. I hear from people all the time, they tell me they're on these sites and they put their sexuality on. People have been outed on Friendster and MySpace. People have found other things, other quirky areas - similar to what you're mentioning - about them. And they make a judgment about you - including your peers - in the workplace.
INSKEEP: If an employer comes across some of this information, shouldn't they have some responsibility - whatever the law is - some responsibility to overlook it? Act like they don't it?
VISCUSI: Absolutely not. A - the employer needs to respect the law, but common sense really has to dictate the ultimate decision. Because guess what? Human nature is going to influence it. There's no way you can say block that out. It's almost like when the judge tells the jury ignore that remark that someone just made. Well, you know they remembered it anyway. So common sense tells you not to do it.
I might add, by the way, we're only talking about these sites. But there may be something that happened to you or about you on Google or on Ask or on Yahoo - one of the other Web sites where people can also look up information. But here you're actually volunteering it, putting it out there for the public to see. And buyer beware.
INSKEEP: Stephen Viscusi, author of On the Job: How to Make it in the Real World of Work. Thanks very much.
VISCUSI: Thanks for having me.
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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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