Social networking site Facebook, as we discovered in the week that Mark Zuckerberg’s US$180bn-valued company floated in the US, has over 900 million users globally.
This is equivalent to every single man, woman and child in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the whole of Western Europe, who engage in telling all of their friends how their holiday was, uploading pictures, playing games and, in many cases, saying a few things they may not want everyone in the world to know.
What is apparent is that social networking sites like Facebook are opening a ‘Pandora’s box’ for careless social networkers. It’s not just friends and family who know what you post, what your personal habits and opinions are, prospective employers and business school admissions officers could also check out your online profile.
According to a recent survey conducted by Kaplan, 27% of business school admissions officers have performed Internet searches on their applicants and 22% of business school admissions officers have visited an applicant’s Facebook page.
Not only are some admissions officers checking applicants’ digital trails, but what they find can be damaging to those candidates. 12% of college admissions officers and 14% of business school admissions officers found something online that negatively impacted an applicant’s admissions chances, the survey says.
But is this really a cause for concern for MBA applicants?
Do MBA admission officers genuinely make decisions to turn down applicants because of what they have seen on a Google search or on a social networking site?
“It is true that we Google applicants or look up their Facebook profile. However, we don’t systematically do it,” says Cristina Sassot, director of admissions at ESADE Business School in Spain.
Sassot’s colleague Jeroen Verhoeven, associate director of admissions at the ESADE MBA, suggests that all information, including that found online, can influence a business school’s decision as to who to offer places to.
“Our job as admissions professionals is to identify and select the best talent for our classes. In addition to face-to-face meetings and interviews, we do check other digital sources, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, so as to get more information about our potential candidates.
“Usually these kinds of platforms provide admission officers with important additional information about our applicants, which are sometimes reviewed along with their application essays.”
Yvonne Li is MBA director, admissions and career services, at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). For her, social networking sites are more actively used as a marketing tool, and “not yet for evaluation and reference check purposes.
“We are not at the stage of using social media to check candidates' creditability. But we do sometimes include the information as a reference.”
The situation with this China-based business school is also complicated by national policy, Li adds.
“Mainland Chinese have very limited access to international social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We do have an interest in getting to know our applicants via social media, but we are also careful about the accuracy of information conveyed from those channels. We rely more on face-to-face communication with prospects, and on direct recommendations from our alumni and current students.”
Philip O'Neill, director of the McGill MBA Japan Program says that looking at a candidate’s online profile is for professional purposes only, for marketing and for keeping track of alumni, perhaps, but not to check out an applicant.
“We have used LinkedIn ads to recruit candidates for our program, and using these almost invariably involves seeing their LinkedIn profile. However, we don't have a policy for looking up people on social networking sites like Facebook. I have Googled people we have lost track of [in order to get back in touch], but this is a rare case.
“So, while we use social media as an advertising tool, we don't systematically look at people's Facebook or LinkedIn pages. I don't know how much these would be worth in an MBA admissions context, unless there was a major discrepancy between the CV we receive and the information shown on Facebook. But again, we don't have a protocol for this.”
Jenni Denniston at Richard Ivey business school at Western Ontario agrees with O’Neill: “We tend to use LinkedIn as opposed to Facebook or Google because of the type of information we're looking for.
“If there is a prospective applicant who we know a little about, i.e. we have met them at an event or they have emailed with questions but we don't have a résumé or CV from them, we often search for them on LinkedIn to learn more about their professional experience and education.
“This is the information that helps us determine if a person fits our base criteria for the program, and also allows us to tailor our conversation with them.”
However, Verhoeven at ESADE counsels that caution is always the best option. While ESADE do not base an application decision on an applicant’s online presence, Verhoeven says he would “strongly advise MBA applicants to be fully aware of their online presence and how this may affect their MBA profile.”