Keep Your Boss Out Of Your Underwear Drawer


The kids who grew up in Facebook, MySpace and in the Social Web are getting older. And as they do and attempt to find jobs, the sheer mass of online reputation problems could keep many of us in business for a very, very long time (thanks YouTube!). Or, it could create an environment where ORM isn’t a concern since everyone has an issue. If we all have skeletons, then no one does, right?

Over at WebProNews, Chris Crum started a good conversation, wondering aloud:

  • Will we ever get to the point where reputation management actually becomes less of an issue?
  • At what point (if any) will employers, schools, etc. accept the fact that questionable material is simply the norm, and let it have less of an impact on decisions like hiring and admission? What is more likely – this kind of tolerance, or an increased sense of responsibility among people (especially the young)?

Chris’ post features some good insight from marketers like Andy Beal, Lee Odden, Greg Jarboe and Dave Naylor, so you should definitely go check it out. However, I do want to share my own thoughts here.

Do I think we’ll ever get to the point where our online reputation becomes less of an issue and something we don’t have to worry about?

Not a chance. Those days are long gone.

We’re living in a searchable world. It doesn’t matter if it’s Google or whatever replaces it, employers have now become savvy about using the Internet as the ultimate employee background check. And that means they’re going to use whatever is in their means to find out who you are, what you’re about, what you’ve done and, if you let them, how you spend your free time. They don’t have any other choice, especially as companies are being forced to become more social. They need to know that you’re going to be able to adequately represent their brand. They have to know who they’re hiring. Sure, they may come to overlook photos of you glassy-eyed and holding a big red plastic cup, but if there’s a photo of you drunk and naked riding a mechanical bull (really Dave? Really?), that testimony can and will be used against you. Stupid is stupid and not everyone is okay with offering that a paycheck.

As for the second question, I wouldn’t wait for employers to become more tolerant or to pat you on the head and realize that we were all in college once. If they find something negative about you, even if they’re trying to be above it, it will cloud their judgement. The responsibility is on you to be presenting the image of yourself you want people to see. You need to be proactive about building your online reputation. The same way you have to create a resume and prepare for a job interview, you need to take control of your vanity search.

You are who your vanity search says you are.

And, I’m sorry, if you’re playing around in the world of social media, that means you should be Internet savvy enough to realize this is something you have to worry about. If you’re uploading drunken videos to YouTube, you’re Web literate. You know how to perform a Google search. So, yes, the responsibility is on you.

I’d hope that if I was someone just entering the job market right now (God, I feel old…), that I’d be smart enough to understand the magic of privacy settings and covering my tracks. I’d be looking for resources like Outspoken’s online reputation management guide. I’d be out there building and protecting my personal brand. I’d be establishing my home base on the Web to promote the sites that I do want people to find. Because if you leave a nice trail of good stuff waiting for people, they’re often less likely to go rogue and look under the mattress. It’s the same reason why kids in high school clean their rooms. They’re trying to keep Mom from finding what’s behind the neatly folded boxers. And it works.

The need for online reputation management will not decrease. It’s only going to become more important, especially as those who grew up actively ruining their SERP now try to get a job. If you can be the candidate that doesn’t have a search page filled with bad content, you stand out. If you can show that while those other candidates were taking drunk photos of themselves, you were doing all the wonderful things that your LinkedIn profile lists, you put yourself ahead. You give yourself an advantage. The future of ORM is that it will become the norm and a necessity, not that it will fade.

Update from Lisa: It’s worth noting that the ORM/hiring issue came up during this morning’s Social Media Breakfast event in Albany. Carrot Creative Co-Founder (and Yankees fan) Mike Germano commented that his company actually insists employees friend him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter so that they can look at profiles (and photos!) to see how candidates are portraying themselves online.  Consider that next time you leave a “good morning, Bitch!” comment on your best friend’s wall. That’s grounds for dismissal in Mike’s world.

Your Comments

  • Jon Buscall

    I think its imperative to carefully manage your online brand no matter what. Just because a cult of “so-whatness” might spring up, there’s no accounting for shifts in attitudes and as Google show in the SERPs history does matter.

    Bottom line, if you’re participating in Social Media you have to have some kind of strategy in place to manage how (prospective) employers view you. Or it will come back to bite you.

  • Matt Cheuvront

    Great post Lisa. As technology continues to develop and social media becomes more and more integrated with our everyday, this idea of ‘personal brand management’ becomes all-the-more important. While it can be detrimental to your reputation (depending on the content you’re putting out for public view) it can also be extremely helpful – giving people (including potential hiring managers) a clear view of who you are and what you’re passionate about.

    I think what we may start to see – at least over time, is the evolution of the interview process. Companies doing away with the standard ‘What is your greatest strength’ type questions – but instead something along the lines of ‘I see that you wrote an article on your blog on Social Media ROI – can you expand upon your post and tell us how you can add to our current social media program’.

    In short, I think we’ll continue to see further integration of our online and offline brands. We’re already getting there – but there is still a clear distinction between our offline and online endeavors. (Why do you think people still call offline life ‘real’ life?)

    Great article Lisa – inspired me to do some thinking of my own. Cheers!

  • James

    This is the kind of problem that people often dont spot until it is too late. No 15 year old is worrying about what future employers/college admission officers are going to think when they post pictures of themselves wearing nothing but a smile and a set of strategically positioned castanets to their social networking profiles or when they confess to recreational drug use on Twitter – turns out you can do a lot of damage in 140 characters or less.
    A lot of good, smart kids are going to find themselves in a seriously deep hole, it hardly seems fair.

    I’ve got significantly less sympathy for adults who don’t take their online reputation seriously. Long gone are the days when you could genuinely act surprised when your boss finds out you called him a poorly endowed jackass with a God complex on your blog – consider yourself Dooced, fool!

    Oh, and so much for sucking at blog titles, you dastardly sandbagger, you.

  • Fred

    All points agreed – this is also a symptom of the “resume” and job-hiring and -seeking becoming a less homogeneous animal. You have the great opportunity in the modern environment to show examples of your work and present a more nuanced portrait of yourself as a job-seeker than you can in a one-page cover sheet…. But at the same time the imperative is upon you to make that reputation something you’re happy people find.

  • Jason Nash

    Great post, Lisa.

    Drunken photos of myself I can control, but things like political or religious affiliations and commentary are harder manage. I’m conflicted that I either need to give up my activity in those areas or only work for companies that don’t mind me having opinions on controversial topics not related to my job.

    I’m curious on your thoughts about the viability of maintaining separate personal and professional identities. I find the likelihood of any success, barring a total anonymous personal identity, quite unlikely, and I think it sacrifices many of the synergies you can get by leveraging social media sites against each other. Combine that with things like Amazon book reviews from the 1990’s when we didn’t worry about such things, and I’m afraid my position has already been established.

    Good stuff. Thanks again.

  • Christina Gleason

    I think we’re in for nearly an entire generation of unemployable people because of the ORM nightmare they’re creating for themselves as we discuss this. Not completely unemployable… they’ll be able to get crappy jobs at crappy companies that don’t know anything about the Web, so long as they can remember to use capital letters and refrain for using txtspk on their job applications. But today’s high school students are going to find it hard to get their dream jobs with the Web savvy companies that make them salivate. It’s unreal how many kids post photos and updates that not only involve alcohol, but illegal drugs and soft porn.

    And even the “responsible” ones who do stupid things but don’t post those pictures online… they have friends with no such qualms who will post those pics and tag them for anyone to see. We’ve had a number of beauty queens dethroned that way in recent years.

  • Rob Woods

    Great post! (as usual) I completely agree with separating work, career, and personal aspects of your personal “brand”. I keep Facebook and the inherent risks of drunken idiocy or shirtless photos (and yes, there are some flagged as me on Facebook) as a totally personal venue, Twitter is for work, SEO related stuff, and the occasional stuff that makes me laugh out loud from the likes of @netmeg, @SEOAly, or of course the aforementioned @lisabarone. LinkedIn is more for career planning etc. I think it’s worthwhile letting your personality come through on all of the venues but keep the things you don’t want prospective customers or employers seeing on your “personal” networks. I believe that maintaining your personal brand and being true to your real personalty and thought process is vital if you are a consultant or prospecting for potential customers. Today I would be much less likely to hire an individual consultant if I couldn’t get a sense of their personality and skill set through their blog, Twitter stream, etc.

  • Maureen

    Great Post Lisa,

    This is definitely an issue I think everyone in their mid 20’s – 30’s is dealing with at the moment. With the advent of tagging people in pictures it becomes quite the task, to have to repeatedly untag photos, that may harm business relationships.

    Managing your own personal brand is much like managing your companies brand and is a necessary evil. I think social media has blurred the lines between business and personal (especially for us search folk) and we just have to be smart about how we present ourselves.

    Thankfully no naked, mechanical bull riding keg cupping pictures here. Thanks for more exposure on this unfortunate issue.

  • john andrews

    Nice post Lisa… I think you’re right, but don’t neglect the potential for new laws to completely screw up the whole process. That example of the boss “requiring” Facebook friending, for example… sure smells problematic. HR law, which is already HUGE, will get so huge that .. well let’s just say a lot of systems are going to break as the norms are challenged.

    I believe the bottom line in the shorter term is going to be the FU response… no longer wanting a job that cares about that stuff, instead being a “personal company”. ORM will still matter, but will be different, and many, many other aspects of reputation will be quite different than they are now.

    Q: Name a public official in office today that would be ousted from power if it were determined that she had actually inhaled in college? Welcome to 2009.

  • Michael D

    We’re talking all the fun out of growing up and that sucks cow balls. I mean what fun is it if you jack a police car, do donuts with it in the parking lot and light it a flame, if you can’t capture the event on your Flip or iPhone?

    Seriously though, after the Lakers nonsense that took place outside the stadium last Sunday night, I was amazed more young folk didn’t seem fazed they were being photographed and or video recorded by dozens of others.

  • michael-gray

    pretty sure requiring someone friend you on facebook would be illegal, and if I had a boss and he fired me for not friending him on facebook … CA-CHING! ($$$ for eyes).

    You can’t even ask an applicant what their age, race, marital status, or religon is so pretty sure requiring facebook friending is over the line

  • Nikhil Vaswani

    Very nicely written! Social networking will soon become the most effective way of building your professional career and creating a personal brand. However, one will have to invest time in learning the effectiveness of these sites and ways to use them properly.

    By the way, if anyone is looking to make the most of their LinkedIn account, check out networking expert Jan Vermeiren’s new book “How to REALLY use LinkedIn”. You can find a free lite version at

  • jlbraaten

    I’m reading Andy Beal’s Radically Transparent now. It’s fascinating how calculated it can be to create your online persona. Blend some interests here, some expertise there. Sooner or later you’ll have a very distinct profile emerge. I’m so glad I don’t have any embarrassing photos (er… moreso that they’ve remained under the surface, lol).

  • Lee

    John Andrews made a good point. Standards will change. Going back less than 50 years, having been divorced made you unlikely to get elected. Not being a Protestant was an issue. So going forward, some indiscretions in your teens will probably be forgiven. “Kids will be kids.” It will be your behaviour as an adult that will be scrutinzed in detail. The line will shift as HR people eventually will HAVE to hire somebody in the upcoming generation of the ORM challenged and they’ll turn out to be just fine. No more prone to being bad employees than the current crop of workers.

  • Steph Woods

    I personally wouldn’t want to work for somebody who had a problem with me saying “good morning, BITCH” to one of my friends on Facebook. If they have no sense of humor then they’re probably not all that fun to work with either. I mean let’s face it, having a great job is important and all, but working for some stiff that can’t take a joke takes all the pleasure out of working.

    Generally speaking, I try not to do things that will come back to haunt me. But I do like to swear sometimes and have a beer just like the next guy. If someone chooses to hold that against me then they seriously need to get their head out of their ass. Although, anything to do with public nakedness or illegal behavior is just not cool with me anyways. On or offline.

    I’m pretty open with my Facebook and other online profiles because I am for transparency all the way. I am who I am. If someone is going to hold it against me, then they probably don’t want me to work for them anyways. It’s better that we establish that before experiencing the pain of a crap office job that suppresses individualism and encourages mechanical robots who don’t have a unique or creative thought in their head.

  • Mattress Maniac

    I seriously think the facebook thing is so ridiculous. That shouldn’t even be an issue. I understand some of the reasons why employers would want to do that, but it’s crossing the line. Great post!