Potential Employers Are Watching You - Social Media Explorer
Potential Employers Are Watching You
Potential Employers Are Watching You

On Thursday of this week, Crystal Peterson, Doe-Anderson‘s senior vice-president for human resources, and I will give a talk to the Louisville Advertising Federation called, “I See Your Profile: Your Online Life Has Windows.” The talk is to illustrate to young advertising professionals that they should be participating in social media, but they should also be taking precautions to protect their personal reputation and ensure potential employers are turned off by Googling their name.

Certainly, we’ll explore the story of Kevin Colvin, who called in sick at an Irish bank only to be photographed dressed as a fairy on the day in question (at a Halloween party). We’ll also pump out the pictures of the infamous Facebook group, “30 Reasons Girls Should Call It A Night,” which features real photos uploaded by Facebook users, believe it or not. I also found a great shot of a not-soon-to-be-employed dude smoking a joint. Frankly, I was speechless.

Since I have a few days more to prepare, I thought I’d ask all of you to offer thoughts and ideas, particularly if you have some outstanding pictures to go along with an example. (I can’t put my finger on the crack-pipe smoking co-eds I saw on someone’s blog about six months ago. If you have it or know where it is, hit me with a comment and a link!)

Searching around for examples over the weekend, I immediately became thankful image uploading and sharing wasn’t online when I was in college. To my knowledge, all of the images of toga parties, panty raids and bathing in tubs full of Jell-O shots are either burned or hidden away. (I’m kidding … I hate Jell-O.)

Having served the role of potential employer recently, I proved the theory true – I not only Googled everyone I was interested in for the social media manager‘s position at Doe-Anderson, but I randomly browsed through MySpaces and Facebooks to see what information I could find. Fortunately, outside of some typical college spring break type pictures of a couple of folks, there was nothing too gratuitous. However, there were a few images that a more conservative manager might have balked at.

Then I started going through the pictures of some of my Facebook friends to see if they had anything bad there. Keep in mind, I used to work as a public relations professional in the athletic departments of several colleges and universities. A good number of my Facebook friends are between the ages of 21-25 — the wheelhouse for flaws in pic posting decorum.

I found two particular individuals (who I’ve reached out to privately) who had what I determined to be fairly inappropriate images for a potential employer to see. One was the said individual drinking a beer – not entirely awful, but again, some folks aren’t as socially liberal as me. The other had a picture of two young ladies, rather scantily clad, dancing with one spanking the other. Again, not horrendous, but not appropriate, either. (And yes, it was a very difficult time reviewing all those spring break pictures. Heh.)

What my adventures browsing told me was that we all need to help educate one another, particularly those of the new generation of professionals, as to what is appropriate and what is not. Sure, we can also just teach people how to privatize their pictures so potential employers can’t see them, but having them there in the first place is the problem. Besides, what’s to prevent one of their friends from allowing people in to see the same picture in their photo stream or even tagging a person in a picture they have nothing to do with?

So if you or someone you know is right out of college or even still a young, 20- or 30-something with an active night life, remind them that their employer or potential employers can probably find a way to see the images, wall posts and public comments or blogs they might have on MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube or more. The best approach is to parse those profiles of questionable images now and keep tabs on our own reputation from here forward (start off with Google Alerts of your name) to ensure anything posted about you anywhere is cool for those hiring to see.

Please pass on your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. Crystal and I will review them as we prepare Thursday’s presentation. And though it won’t be slide heavy, I’ll post it on Slideshare for all to see.

IMAGE:Shadow” by d-faith-k on Flickr.

About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • d-faith-k

    Next time you use my photo for something, which by the way I don't mind if you do, could you please at least tell me. You could have posted something on the flickr page. Thanks

  • d-faith-k

    Next time you use my photo for something, which by the way I don't mind if you do, could you please at least tell me. You could have posted something on the flickr page. Thanks

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  • My sons are 17 and 18, and I’ve impressed upon them for the longest time the importance of being prudent with what they post online and where. Some bits have sunk in, others not so much, but I hope as they get older, the wisdom will sink in further.

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  • I can see why an employer would want to see how you act on off hours. I have stories to tell about people, otherwise normal and rational, who acted like total idiots when we were on business travel. I am sure if MySpace and Facebook were popular back when, these people would have had inappropriate pics posted.

    Three real life stories:

    The PR director who was seen digging through a dumpster (drunk of course) behind the theater where a big award had just been given to the company.

    The guy who had to be rescued from a downtown New Orleans bar by co-workers when he passed out in the phone booth and got locked in, complete with a jester’s hat on.

    The guy who kept posting on Twitter how much he hated his job, the company, etc. and no longer works there. The media policy restricts those kind of posts so he was fired.

    You see, if you make bad social decisions in private, you might also make them when the stakes are higher and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Ask anyone who has attended the yearly company party what I mean.

    Your personal life may be none of my business as a hiring manager, but if it is so personal then don’t broadcast it to the world.

    My 2 cents anyway.

  • KatFrench

    Interesting discussion. (Of course, I always think discussions that directly reference me are interesting. It’s the megalomaniac in me.)

    Seth Godin had an interesting post entitled “Why bother having a resume?” It sort of speaks to the “looking for the positive” element that Jason brought up in his last comment. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/03/why-bother-havi.html

    I read that post just before applying for the position here at Doe Anderson, and I really took it to heart (ask Jason–I never sent him a resume, just my LinkedIn profile. He was already familiar with my blog.)

    Your reputation is going to precede you, to a certain extent. You’re the one with the power to shape that reputation. Authentic and passionate is good. Irresponsible and immature is bad. And the industry, position and organization in question is going to determine what weight is placed on either.

    At the very least, make sure all the photos of you doing keg stands are on Friendster. Nobody ever checks Friendster. ;-)

  • That is a good explanation Jason. It is good to know people are not just looking to pick people apart but to see professional accomplishments or good deeds.

  • I am with Carmen on this.

    “So… perhaps one of the hard questions for employers is this: When are you going to stop worrying about the last time your prospective employee got drunk / passed a joint, and start worrying about finding the best possible person for the gig?”

    Is somebody actually saying they will pass on a “good candidate” because of a beer, some wild pics, and a few “bad” words?

    This reminds me of devils advocate, “look, but don’t touch, touch, but don’t taste, taste, but don’t swallow” My point is that this is total hypocrisy!! Let’s pull back the curtain on every hiring manager on this site or in the whole advertising industry, what will we find hmmmmmm. Would a few folks get fired for smoking a joint, being scantily dressed, drinking shots of tequila etc. etc.

    Let me be totally inappropriate when I say *fuck this!*

    my name is Aronado and I drink beer, say bad words, and act a little crazy sometimes. So what!!

  • Great comments all. And thanks for posting them!

    Crystal emailed me this morning after reading through the discussion here. She made a point in the email that I’d like to make sure we touch on, too.

    Not all potential employers are looking for the negative. It’s not just about stodgy companies looking for every way possible to disqualify potential candidates. Sometimes is the positive. Crystal pointed out that she likes to see if people have a professional blog? Are they experts in their field or are they trying to be? Have they presented at conferences, written white papers? If so, what were the topics and where to they stand?

    Bottom line — What is this person’s personal brand? Are they undefined and unrefined or are they aware of their online surroundings and contributing to their professions their and elsewhere?

    She did say if the other personal stuff pops up, it makes her question one’s maturity, judgment and professionalism. For an agency like Doe, if we can see your Facebook pictures, our clients can, too. So like Matt said above, don’t be stupid.

    No, what you do at night or on the weekends shouldn’t effect (and in most cases probably doesn’t effect) what you do from 9-5, but sharing it certainly can. It may not be right, but it is what it is.

    Still, if you’re putting out the right professional signals — a blog about your industry, participation in or at conferences, commenting on relevant topics in various groups, message boards and what-not — employers will see that, too.

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  • I’m 100% with Dan Thornton on this. The whole corporate mentality is robbing the world of it’s soul. People spend more time worrying about how co-workers perceive them rather than be true to themselves. That is a mentally dysfunctional way to live in my opinion. I would rather scrape together a “living” as a New Orleans street musician than work at a place that is so judgmental where people making personnel decisions based on what they find on Google. And the people who resort to spying should look in the mirror because it would likely look similar.

    Maybe I’m into S&M role playing and Hollywood club hopping on a Friday night, then get up early on Saturday for a 6 a.m. tee time, then go to church on Sundays. None of those things have anything to do with work, well maybe golf for some but the desire to know all that stuff is borderline creepy.

  • Great post Jason. People need to be aware of the repercussions of sharing pieces of their lives with the online world. Even posting fake/staged photos might seem funny at the time, but will regularly be taken out of context by the viewers and can scar a reputation.

    These types of pictures that are easily found on Facebook and MySpace are damaging enough – then you take into consideration the people who decide to participate in social media DURING the party! Tweeting, live-streaming or recording video conversations on platforms like Seesmic while intoxicated can bring the insanity to a whole new level!

    Common sense people!


  • I totally agree with Carman’s sentiment. As someone who has recently interviewed candidates for an online role, I care a lot less about pictures of someone drinking a beer than I do whether or not they’re even on Facebook to start with.

    In fact, I’d be happier being turned away from a company for pictures of acceptable social pastimes than I would being in the employ of a company so restrictive. Obviously there’s a line which it’s possible to cross, but I’d rather employ a real person than an identikit fake.

  • You bring up a lot of good points here Jason. As a 23 year old and recent college grad, I think it’s important to mention the one cardinal rule when it comes to things like this:

    Don’t be stupid.

    If you’re looking for a job with an accounting firm then you probably don’t want the pictures of your 30 second keg-stand all over the web. It’s not rocket science. Just like everything else in new media/marketing, you really have to know your audience. That being said, making a limited profile on Facebook or private pictures on Flickr isn’t that tough.

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  • Interesting post Jason. The trend that forms the basis of the post – i.e. that people are increasingly living their lives out loud (and in an imminately searchable / findable way) – is emerging concurrent with another trend: Companies are finding that it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain the talent required to propel their business forward.

    So… perhaps one of the hard questions for employers is this: When are you going to stop worrying about the last time your prospective employee got drunk / passed a joint, and start worrying about finding the best possible person for the gig?

    As I think back on the best employees that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with during the past 10 years or so, these are EXACTLY the candidates who would have been screened out if I cared about Facebook pics during the interview process.

  • I’ve been doing the same thing for technical candidates for a long time. Usually I don’t branch into their social presence online, but that has started to explode relatively recently. One thing to note when doing things like this, is it might be hard to differentiate people online with common names. For me the biggest hits on google come back for a dude that played basketball at XU, and a guy that does fishing services in Kentucky. Its the same for facebook and some of the other social services. I would hate to see me being judged wrongfully by someone else’s profiles online. I would suggest being proactive with a potential employer to make sure they are looking at the right “Kevin Frey”.


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