You Are Being Watched! And Judged!

WorkCoachCafeYes, you ARE being watched!  What you write (or say) online “can be used against you” in the court of public opinion or in the privacy of an employer’s or a recruiter’s office.  Yet, it appears that too many people are not aware that what they do online, in the “privacy” of their social media accounts, is often very widely visible. 

This wide visibility can help or hurt both their careers and their job hunting.  In this post, we’ll explore how people may be hurt by what they post.  (In the next post, we’ll see how they may be helped.)

The Age of Google and Social Media

In the age of Google and social media, caution is required – more caution than many people are using.  It’s not your Grandmother’s Internet any more!  Two very important things to be aware of in the Age of Google and Social Media:

1.)   MOST of what is contributed online in social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter is visible to the world. 

2.)  That world includes both current employers and co-workers as well as recruiters and potential employers – people you probably want to impress (positively).

Whenever you make a comment online, pretend your Mother, your current boss (if you have a job), or a recruiter for your “ideal” employer is looking over your shoulder and reading what you wrote.  Because in our current real/virtual reality world, they may be. 

The Impact of Negative Behavior May Not Be Visible to You

People often assume that if they don’t receive negative feedback about their behavior, that everything is fine, that no problem exists for them.  Unfortunately, not true.  For example:

  • A recruiter recently shared that they were considering proposing a specific person to their client, and then read that person’s postings in a LinkedIn Group relevant to the work.  With the “See this Member’s activity” option, LinkedIn makes it very easy to see a Group member’s other postings in the Group.  Several of this person’s postings were just plain nasty – someone who would NOT be a pleasant person to work with.  So, no connection was made.  End of opportunity.
  • I participate in several LinkedIn Groups, and often I am amazed at what people write in Groups and other similar public forums.  I have seen reasonable questions draw vitriolic responses from people who apparently have no built-in personal censor helping them control their worst impulses (or who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they respond).  Who would want to network with someone like that online?  As a consequence of such behavior, a negative impression is created in the minds of the many people reading those entries.  Opportunities limited.
  • Another recruiter I have spoken with this year was on the verge of inviting someone in for an interview, but, after a quick Google search revealed the applicant apparently spent most weekends drinking and partying, which they fully documented on Facebook, the interview invitation evaporated.  End of opportunity.
  • Wall Street Journal article contained a report about an employee who made a Facebook post about going out to dinner with friends and then smoking “reefer” after dinner.  It was seen by management and other employees.  Opportunities limited.
  • A colleague posted a “funny” video before the last Presidential election in the USA.  It made fun of the candidate she did not like.  She widely promoted it as “fun,” hoping to help her candidate win in the process.  Half of the country liked the candidate she ridiculed, including me, so she needlessly alienated a gigantic group.  I certainly lost interest in working with her, and I bet I’m not alone in that.  Opportunities limited.
  • A Human Resources manager shared with me that his company fired an employee who wrote angry statements on his personal Facebook page about another employee and his boss concerning a work situation.  End of employment.

Except for the last example, none of these people had any idea that they were “passed over” or will have limited opportunities because of what they personally made visible online.

Avoid These 7 Negative Activities Online

Are you creating positive or negative visibility for yourself?  These online activities make a negative impression:

1.)  Using foul language.

2.)  Describing participation in illegal activities.

3.)  Exhibiting rude behavior.  Name calling.  Personal attacks.  Bullying.  Intimidation.

4.)  Denigrating a religion, politician, political party, country, ethnic group, gender, sexual preference, etc.

5.)  Seeming to be incoherent/drunk/drugged.

And, particularly if you are currently employed, avoid these, too:

6.)  Slamming the current employer, boss, co-workers, or products and services (disloyalty, bad judgment).

7.)  Announcing your search for a new job. (Yikes!  This can result in a quick termination.)

Unless you are writing a carefully, coherent review of a product or service on a site like Amazon or Yelp or you are a “mean” comedian, there is no personal benefit to being publicly negative about anyone or anything.  Mom was right when she told you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Such good advice that it has become a cliche.

What to Do About Any Past Bad Behavior

Remove it.  You can easily delete your posts and comments in LinkedIn, and you can do it relatively easily on Facebook.  If a friend or relative has posted something on Facebook with your name attached to it that puts you in a negative light, ask them to remove it.  True friends will remove it.  Hopefully, your family will also.  If material cannot be removed, it will gradually become less visible over time.

Then, make a promise to yourself to be more careful of your personal reputation in the future and to come back next week to read the post on making a great impression with your online visibility.

For More on This Topic:

Critical New Job Search Skill: Reputation Management or Recovery

Ego Surfing or Smart Self-Defense

Online Reputation Management (

Monitor Your Reputation with Google Alerts (

Microsoft’s Privacy and Online Reputation Management Study


© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .



  1. Cafe Patron says:

    I try to isolate any social media accounts of mine that I don’t want most
    potential employers to see. On my blog, for example, I don’t give my name,
    and I use a different e-mail address. I further isolate my blog by not
    including a link to it on my Flickr and LinkedIn sites.

    If I had a Facebook site, which I would have strictly for personal use, I
    would not use my real name and primary e-mail address.

    When commenting on this site or other blogs, I use an alias.

    • Cafe Patron,

      These are good best practices for privacy — particularly if you are applying for jobs that require discretion. But many employers also say that a strong professional presence online can enhance an individual’s abilities to get hired. The trick is often to balance what you share and how much so that you can strike the right blend.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and approach.

      All the Best,

  2. I DONT PUT ANYTHING ON ANY SITE THAT IS NOT RESPECTABLE AND KIND I have a question after working 24 years and being laid off last year . I had 2 interviews both interview me with 3 people one actually made a copy of my id any reason why? after the 2 interview different co applied 2 month ago got a call for interview yesterday,still dont know if i got either job. back in the old days if call for a interview u knew when u left if u had the job. i really need to know the new interview stage. never asked to give my id and she made a copy confused,

  3. I would add that you should not post anything about any health issues or discuss your age if you are over 50. Does age discrimination occur ? Absolutely! But it is hard to prove. No employer would like to hire an aging worker who could be out of work for extended periods with health issues.

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