Sunday, December 21, 2014
Embarrassing public posts can reflect badly on jobseekers
What's the right thing to do when you notice a friend's child is doing something embarrassing on social media?
It may be rare when a parent's social media activities cross with those of his or her child, but it happens. And because profiles and activity on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram might be available to the public, it's not unlikely that a parent or the friend of a parent will come across the postings of a friend's child.
Take, for example, the experience of G.S. A friend's college-aged daughter had asked G.S. for career advice, since G.S. worked in a field the child was considering entering after graduation. The two had exchanged several emails, and G.S. offered to provide as much advice as the student daughter wanted.
G.S. knew that hiring managers in her field regularly combed the Internet for information on prospective job candidates. Out of curiosity, she did a quick search on the friend's daughter and found that her Facebook profile picture featured her heartily quaffing an alcoholic beverage. The rest of the Facebook profile was unavailable for anyone but her designated friends to see.
Still, the photo anyone could see when they searched for her on Facebook was one of her drinking.
At first, G.S. wondered if it was her place to say anything. After all, she was not the child's parent. What's more, the young woman was old enough to drink. She wasn't breaking any laws, nor was there any indication from the information G.S. had that the young woman had substance abuse problems.
But since G.S. had been asked for and had offered professional advice, shouldn't she seize the opportunity to say something about what she believed to be the inappropriateness of a public photo? If she did say something, who should she approach? The child? The child's parents? Both?
G.S. should talk directly to the young woman rather than her parents. Because she had established a relationship with this student, the right thing would be to tell her that G.S. had seen the photo and suggest that she consider taking it down.
Rather than just offer such advice, however, G.S. should go further and explain to the student how images and information available on the Internet can define how a prospective employer perceives a job candidate. While it's fine to choose to have a private life and to engage in legal activities such as drinking, these activities don't present the young woman is the best light for a potential job.
It's not right for G.S. to advise that the young woman try to present herself as something she's not, but if the only image that others on the Internet see is of alcohol consumption this sends an incomplete picture of the skills and abilities the young woman might bring to a job.
Common sense on what to post publicly should prevail. If G.S. can guide the young woman to this realization now, it might prove invaluable as she begins her professional life.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.