8 Things I Wish Job Candidates Hadn’t Shared


Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the AFLAC duck after a highly publicized social media gaffe.

Blogger Jeff Bullas recently posted his list of 30 things you shouldn’t share on social media. Some of his suggestions were humorous, and some were serious.

I’ve been going through the process of reviewing resumes and interviewing college students applying for a part-time marketing assistant job that’s open at work, and I wish that every one of them would read and heed a list of things they shouldn’t share on social media.

No, I wasn’t screening them by checking their social media profiles behind their backs. One part of the job we’re offering is posting to our corporate social media pages and blog, so I asked them for work-appropriate samples of their work they wanted to share on a laptop hooked up to a projector in our conference room.

And a succession of candidates – knowing they were in a job interview, and knowing that they were being interviewed for a social media internship – chose to display their personal Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or blog pages.  And nearly all of them inadvertently displayed photos, comments, and content that should never have been shown to a potential employer. 

Some blushed, some giggled, but the worst offenders didn’t comment at all, leaving me to think that they weren’t in the least embarrassed by what they flashed on the wall for us to see.

So here’s my all too serious list of things I wish job candidates hadn’t shown me during job interviews.

  • Party photos showing you inebriated or with a hand placed where it shouldn’t be – especially if you’re under the legal drinking age.
  • Complaints about your current boss, your job, and the customers.
  • Comments about being so much smarter than your boss and your co-workers, or critiques of the weight, age, or appearance of your boss and co-workers.
  • Sexually provocative and explicit photos. One job applicant had a huge photo of her Halloween costume on her blog as a featured photo. The costume was a sheer body stocking with thumbnail-sized modesty panels. The 20-year-old was holding an open and half-empty bottle labeled Absinthe Tunel 80 Cannabis, and smiling at an apparently naked guy facing her in a crowded bar or club. Did I mention she’s a student at a conservative church-sponsored university? Or that the drinking age in our state is 21? Or that the Spanish concoction she’s holding can’t be legally imported into the U.S.?
  • Photos showing you enjoying yourself at the beach or the lake or some event, with a caption that says, “So glad I called in sick at work today!” (I saw four of those in two days of interviews.)
  • Hints about your computer passwords. (I actually saw this on one applicant’s blog: “It’s so stupid that they make us change our passwords in the computer lab every month! I just keep putting my dog Amanda’s name in, only one time I spell it right, and the next month I spell it backwards.”)

These next two weren’t shown to me during interviews, but people I know reported having them shared with them.

  • How much money you do or don’t have in your bank account, and the source of the money. (I’m embarrassed to admit it, but according to her boss, one of my grandkids posted this on Facebook – who when he met me said, “Oh, so YOU’RE the one she writes about on Facebook.”  My “little princess” was quite surprised that I got upset. “Went to visit the money machine today – aka grandma. Let’s go party & spend the $250 windfall!”)
  • Extreme political, racial, or religious views.  I can’t tell you how many friends and co-workers have told horror stories of “social media experts” or internship candidates who have shown them “work samples” laced with language more appropriate for a late-night comedy skit or R-rated movie than the office.  Or filled with passionate rants about a cause that was not quite politically correct.  (One actually had a screen shot of a neo-Nazi site that a web developer proudly showed as a sample of his design work, noting how he’d taken his inspiration from the architectural and cubist lines of the 1930’s.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t share your faith or your support for a politician on your social media pages. It just means using good sense and remembering that potential employers may see it whether they intend to or not.

At the risk of offending, I will point out here that the use of certain racially charged words may be perfectly acceptable in rap music, but they usually are NOT acceptable at work.  And someone my age who is old enough to remember the days before segregation ended may be more sensitive to them than those born afterwards.  Peppering your blog or your social media posts with them doesn’t encourage me to hire you. How do I know that you won’t use them around the office?

So am I saying that you can’t express yourself freely on social networks, or that I won’t hire you if you say the wrong thing? Not at all. It is possible to exercise your free speech rights and keep or get a job.

I’m just saying that if it’s personal and private, keep it that way. I don’t want to be your Facebook friend if I’m your supervisor. And I certainly don’t want a job candidate to walk into an interview and show me stuff that will make it nearly impossible for me to work with them.

Remember, candidates were told a week before the interview that they should be prepared to show samples of their work, and were given links to our social media pages and blog. Any or all of them had the opportunity to “clean up” a page to display, create a new one, or dodge the question altogether and comment on our pages or their favorite pages instead of showing me inappropriate images and content.

One of them did just that. She prepared a sample blog and Facebook page, along with a list of her favorite corporate social media campaigns. I never saw her personal Facebook page (which she volunteered was not public). Guess who got the job?

Photo Credit:  Hollywood photographer Alan Light offered this photo, taken at the 1991 Emmy Awards, via Creative Commons License on Flickr

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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