A passive employee is only one bad workday away from becoming an active job applicant. Likewise, a tech-savvy college graduate is one job removed from a room at mom's and dad's.

Such was the thinking when Ernst & Young LLP shed the stodgy image often conferred on accountants and stepped into the uncharted realm of online social networking, becoming the first company to sponsor a page on Facebook.com specifically aimed at attracting young talent.

The firm wants to hire more than 5,000 interns and entry-level workers this year and so far, career strategy experts applaud the move.

"Good for Ernst & Young," said Kristen Fennelly, a recruiting consultant with Administaff Inc., a provider of outsourced human resource services. "It's fitting as old school approaches are long gone."

Ernst & Young's Facebook profile is a no-frills display complete with slideshows and video testimonials from evangelistic interns, various career tips and links to the firm's corporate sites. The firm's recruiters observe user activity and respond casually to visitors.

Nearly 6,000 users have signed up as "members" of the Ernst & Young page on Facebook, which claims that 85 percent of an estimated 8 million college students use its Web site.

While some see this as a good thing for businesses and job hounds, privacy remains an issue.

Companies can use these sites to weed out candidates, based on the content of their individual member profiles, warns Kristen Todd, career development adviser at USC's Marshall School of Business. "We try to tell employers that kids think of this as their private space and that both parties should keep that in mind when logging in to networking sites," she said.

To help temper these concerns, this spring Facebook and Jobster Inc. plan to launch a secured site enabling regular Facebook users to create more formal job seeker profiles that employers can access. Fox Interactive unit MySpace recently formed a similar partnership with SimplyHired.com.

Meanwhile, Ernst & Young remains cautiously optimistic about tapping into social networking in general and Facebook in particular.

"We know (Facebook) is not a controlled environment, so we did lose a little sleep over pushing the envelope," said Dan Black, the firm's Americas director of campus recruiting. "But we've found the rewards have far outweighed the risks."

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