We know you’ve heard you should clean up your social media so that you can be a presentable professional, especially when you’re looking for a new job. But do you know how it could actually hurt you?
We’ve collected real stories about candidates who were well on their way to snagging a new role, but didn’t, all or at least in part because of a social media post (or posts) someone on the hiring side found during the vetting process. That’s right, something they did on social media got them dropped like hot potatoes.
That’s right, something they did on social media got them dropped like hot potatoes.
So before you “yeah, yeah, fine” your way into ignoring what is arguably one of the most frequently uttered pieces of career advice in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and more, you might want to read about these eight people who didn’t get the job.
In some cases, these candidates clearly behaved badly. Other times the post or posts in question revealed something about them that made them seem like less of a fit for the role or company. So while we at The Muse certainly advocate checking your privacy settings and deleting things you wouldn’t want your future boss to see, keep in mind that sometimes, you might decide it falls under the category of: “If they don’t like it, I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.”
For example, if a company decided not to hire you because you’re really outspoken online about pay transparency or racial diversity or LGBTQ rights or unions or whatever issue (or issues) you’re passionate about, it’s probably not a good fit for you as much as you’re not a good fit for the company. That’s fine—great, even—as long as it’s a conscious choice.
1. When a Candidate Was Arguing Aggressively
Shawn Breyer and his team at Breyer Home Buyers in Georgia were doing a final round of vetting. A promising candidate had reached the end of the interview process for a transaction coordinator role, in which they’d handle things like paperwork, scheduling, and other, well, coordinating among sellers, lawyers, lenders, title companies, and more.
That’s when the team found Facebook posts (on the candidate’s public account) that made Breyer and his colleagues hesitate. The candidate was posting political content—which during a presidential campaign wasn’t unusual and wasn’t in itself an issue. But they were also arguing animatedly and aggressively with anyone who disagreed.
“We viewed this as this individual would struggle if someone on the team wanted to take a project a different direction than they had in mind,” Breyer says. “We want our team members to be able to set aside their differences and work together and we felt that these actions showed that they wouldn’t be able to perform this way consistently.”
The candidate, who Breyer says otherwise was likely to get hired, didn’t get the job.
2. When a Candidate Lied About Her Mom Dying
Rich Franklin is the founder and president of KBC Staffing, a staffing and recruiting agency in the Bay Area, so he’s seen his fair share of social media snafus over the years.
There was the time a candidate for an administrative assistant role called to cancel her interview at the last minute. Her mother had died, she told them. So of course they understood and had no problem rescheduling. Soon afterward, she emailed again to say she needed a bit more time. Still, no problem.
But then someone thought to look her up and found her Facebook profile, featuring a picture of her out to dinner with her mother the day after she’d supposedly died.
But then someone thought to look her up and found her Facebook profile, featuring a picture of her out to dinner with her mother the day after she’d supposedly died. They sent her a screenshot and never heard from her again.
I can’t imagine a scenario in which lying about your mom’s death is excusable—even if you don’t mess it up by posting evidence to the contrary on social media—but the lesson applies more broadly. Don’t lie about less absurd things either, and make sure how you’re representing yourself on social media doesn’t contradict the story you’re telling in your application. For example, don’t go on and on about how you love working on a team in your interview and post everywhere about how you think people are the worst.
3. When a Candidate Wore a Swastika in His Profile Pic
Another time, Franklin and his team were hiring for short-term construction projects. “A man had completed his interviews and was all set to be hired,” he recalls. “We found him on Facebook and his profile was locked down. That wasn’t a problem for us but we decided to click his profile picture anyway. There was our candidate wearing a biker jacket with a swastika.”
Once again, they sent him a screenshot of what they’d found and got no response. “He had the right background and right skills,” Franklin says. “He was definitely going to get the job.” But not after the swastika.
4. When a Candidate for a Daycare Job Posted Memes From the Subreddit /ChildrenFallingOver
Yet another time (seriously, he has a lot of stories), Franklin’s agency was hiring for jobs at a new daycare. In this scenario, the background checks needed to be more thorough than for some other projects and the agency outsourced the work. The candidate in question had a Twitter account—it wasn’t in her name but it linked to another profile that was—that featured reposts from the r/ChildrenFallingOver subreddit.
Although the posts were a few years old, and though “I don’t think it was anything malicious, we didn’t want to take the risk,” Franklin explains. “We didn’t want anyone who had made fun of children to be at the daycare,” he adds. “If somebody else saw this, like one of the parents, it just would be not a good look for the company.”
If you’ve been hired and people really like you, you might get a second chance if someone finds this. But before you get hired it’s not likely people are going to give you the benefit of the doubt, because they don’t know you.
In this case, the agency called the candidate, but Franklin emphasizes that it wasn’t a negotiation. “Our job is to be pretty conservative,” he says. “That’s something people should know. If you’ve been hired and people really like you, you might get a second chance if someone finds this. But before you get hired it’s not likely people are going to give you the benefit of the doubt, because they don’t know you.”
5. When a Candidate Was Really Angry (and Cursing) About Sports
In a competitive job search, you want to do everything you can to set yourself apart from any other equally qualified candidates. We generally talk about that truism in terms of the positive ways you can prove you’re even just a smidge better than the other applicants. But it also means avoiding something that will make you seem like a riskier hire than another finalist.
Jill Pante, director of the University of Delaware Lerner Career Services Center, once led a search committee that was trying to make a final decision between two very strong candidates, who were “equal in skill, passion, and overall fit for the office.”
One of the candidates didn’t have much of a LinkedIn presence, which was somewhat concerning in a role where he’d have to teach and set an example for students looking to enter the professional world. That might not have tilted the scales so much in itself, but that same candidate’s Facebook profile was also full of anger and expletives in posts about how sports teams he followed were performing.
It was “F this person, F that guy,” but spelled out and sometimes in all caps, and not just in a post or two, Pante says. People are passionate about sports, sure, but there were at least half a dozen of these posts dominating his feed. “I would say all but one of us found it kind of shocking. It was the thing that sort of moved the needle in the other candidate’s direction,” Pante says. Plus, the other candidate’s profiles were “free from any F-bombs or controversial posts.”
6. When a Candidate Expressed a View Antithetical to the Company’s Values
Cristian Rennella, the co-founder and CEO of elMejorTrato.com—a search engine for loans and other financial products with a presence in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and several other countries—was looking for a new CTO.
Finding someone with the requisite technical skills was a challenge, but they had at least one promising candidate. When they took a look at his social media history, they found a tweet in which the candidate stated that having a university degree is a requirement to get a job as a programmer.
“This goes clearly against the culture of the company, where we consider that someone should not be qualified by their titles or by the lack thereof, but for [their] true ability to write code,” Rennella says. “The challenges are going to change and if the team has people who are flexible and can adapt to new changes on their own, then we have more chances of success in the long term.”
We respect his opinion but we do not share it. And we thought it would not be the best place to work for him.
They told the candidate about the disconnect between his stated view and the philosophy of the company, where many programmers do not, in fact, have university degrees. “We respect his opinion but we do not share it. And we thought it would not be the best place to work for him.”
7. When a Candidate Posted Troubling Sketches
In one of his previous roles, recruiter Matt Dodgson (currently a director at Market Recruitment) was working on hiring for an advertising account manager position, a job that would require interacting with clients and coordinating with various teams. While researching one of the candidates, Dodgson found a Tumblr site he published under “an artsy pen name.” Still, the candidate would often link to it from his Facebook page with posts like “I just crafted this masterpiece, check it out!” In other words, not so private.
“The site, it turns out, is a collection of doodles he makes exclusively while at work,” Dodgson says. But that wasn’t actually the problem. Lots of people doodle on the job, and it’s been shown to improve focus. But his drawings were “usually mocking or making derogatory comments at particular people, including clients,” and featured “fat-shaming and sexist remarks,” Dodgson says. “If this is how the candidate thought about women in doodles, how might he interact with women at work?”
If this is how the candidate thought about women in doodles, how might he interact with women at work?
Now, this candidate didn’t have the job in the bag; there were some other concerns, including answers to interview questions and reference calls that couldn’t quite confirm his track record as a team player. Even so, one of Dodgson’s colleagues gave him a call to give him a chance to explain his side of the story. “Ultimately, when he did not get the role, we told him that the selected candidate had strong client experience (which was true),” Dodgson says. But the sketches certainly didn’t help.
8. When an Almost-Intern Posted About His Plans to Party All Summer
Just because you’ve already gotten an offer doesn’t necessarily mean you can post anything you want with impunity. Regina Moravek, an HR expert and contributor to The Muse who used to work as a university career services director, recalls a college junior who’d landed a summer internship in HR.
“In his post to share his good news about getting/accepting the offer, he added something about being excited to ‘party all summer in [company location] at his upcoming summer internship with XYZ Co.,’” Moravek says. The company, which not surprisingly found the post, was so displeased that it rescinded its offer.
Job searching isn’t easy. So don’t make it harder on yourself. Spend some time combing through your social media accounts as though you were that hiring manager you spoke with or that boss hiring for their team. Based on what you see, would you hire you? If the answer is no, ask yourself why. And decide whether you stand by your posts at the potential cost of this job or want to whip out your figurative Windex and scrub those profiles.
TopicsInterviews , Syndication , Finding a Job , Social Media & Blogging , Personal Branding , Tools & Skills , The Muse Editor's Picks
Photo of person looking at phone and laptop courtesy of elenaleonova/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author