There are plenty of stupid things you can do on Facebook, but you perhaps wouldn't expect being too private to be one of them. Think again. There are actually real downsides to locking down your Facebook profile. It can hurt you in a job search and affect the quality of the search results for your name. Here's why.
Title photo by Ilya Andriyanov (Shutterstock).
Facebook can be a little scary when it comes to your privacy. It doesn't have the greatest track record when it comes to respecting privacy, and we've all heard stories about how prospective employers have found embarrassing photos and information that led to problems in the hiring process.
When we hear about the downsides of sharing information publicly, our instincts turn to paranoia. We want jobs. We don't want to be embarrassed. We want to survive online with our dignity intact. Those are all fine goals, but completely locking down your Facebook profile to achieve them is taking it too far. It can actually hurt you because you are not providing good information about yourself.
When You Post Nothing, Everyone Else Decides Who You Are
You don't have control over what other people post about you. If you get drunk at a party and someone snaps a photo, it may end up online. Sure, you can untag yourself and try to control the possible damage from embarrassing stuff popping up, but there's really no way to stop it all. You may not have active tags on Facebook, but that doesn't mean that photo won't still exist and won't show up elsewhere. When people are constantly contributing information to Facebook, as well as other parts of the web, you're always stuck playing catch-up if you're trying to control how others talk about you.
This is why you need to contribute public information. If you don't, you're providing no information about who you are. If you don't post anything, everyone else determines what you look like to a stranger who searches for your name. In a job search, this can be pretty problematic. The first results can be embarrassing. If you share a name with someone else, his or her results may come up instead. You put yourself at risk by not contributing positive information about yourself.
The Solution: Publicly Post What You Want Others to See
It's fine to keep most of what you post on Facebook private and only visible to friends. That said, if you want to look good in public, you should be posting a few things that make you appear like the upstanding citizen you believe yourself to be. Share photos from fun family events, opinions about a gadget you really love or hate, and tame messages like regular birthday wishes. There are plenty of things you can share in public that don't reveal anything private but show that you're a good person. When a prospective employer "stumbles" upon your Facebook page, they'll see the good stuff you want to share and be more likely to miss out on the embarrassing stuff your friends (or enemies) may have lurking elsewhere online.
This can be easier said than done. Facebook has some pretty intimidating privacy settings, but we explain them all here. Be sure to read that guide if you don't know how to manage your privacy settings in a way that allows you to be selective about what is private and what you'll let the world see. You can't control everything about your online persona, but you still have more control than anyone else. Use it wisely.