How bad are those drunken Facebook photos to your career

The juxtaposition could not have been more perfect. A post on a small, but tight community in a Facebook Group called out for paid help on a project. It wasn't a large job, but the pay was decent and one group member - let's call him Ollie - wanted it. "I'm hardworking and reliable, and would love this opportunity," he commented on the post. He was the second person as well, after the obligatory "sounds cool" comment. There was one small problem for the potential employer. Ollie's Facebook profile picture displayed a young man slightly the worse for wear taking part in a game of human Buckaroo. Click through and status updates varied from discussion of Ollie's assorted hangovers and Ollie's night's out.

I've no idea if Ollie got the role, although I'd assume not. For all we know, Ollie could actually be a contentious, dedicated employee, although you wouldn't know it from his Facebook page.

Ollie's story popped into my head when reading AVG's latest Digital Diaries. Recently, a work-related project has seen me working on advice sessions on ways social media can help your career. The regular monitoring I do in this area has picked up some excellent examples, but also some absolute shockers (I'd love to share, but I don't want to embarrass these people any more than they've already done) and my own experience tallies a lot with the stats AVG's study has returned.

Generally older users of social networkers appear a little more sensible in their use of social media (although not always. Two of the worst examples of an employee making derogatory comments on Twitter about employers have been from 40-year-olds who really should know better), while the 18-25 age group seem a little less circumspect about what they post.

Again, this is a bit of a generalisation, but when 92% of the 4,440 young adults interviewed admit to posting negative comments about former employers online, it suggests there's very much a Tweet in haste, repent in leisure attitude among this age bracket. And given the majority of the 230 HR professionals viewed abusive comments about employers in a similar light to extremist views, that's not necessarily a good thing.

These last 12 months have seen a slight shift in awareness (or lack of) in what's appropriate in a public, online medium. Criminal prosecutions, libel actions, and the like have come to the fore on social media. Most recently, a young reporter lost his job for Tweeting an allegation about a celebrity and sexual abuse.

But I can also see Lianne Froggatt's point about not having an online profile being worse than having a profile with tipsy Facebook pictures - although if your online footprint really is full of Ollie-isms, then you might want to consider locking away some of the worse aspects.

As Lianne writes:

"[T]hat doesn't solely extend to looking for pictures of you passed out after a raucous house party. They're also looking for insightful blog posts discussing your field, interesting and relevant connections and conversations and a general mastering of the digital world as well as your specific area of professional interest.

 

"What does it say about your suitability for work in a world that is ever-increasingly reliant on digital, if you do not appear at all when those HR spooks type in your name on Google? Are you capable of working in a fast-paced digital environment if you do not even take interest in personal online networks?"

Me, I'd be pretty relaxed about somebody having an active social life, providing it didn't impinge on their work - calling in sick after posting a status on Facebook at 2am telling the world how drunk you are is not impressive. Having your boss see your drunken pictures from the weekend isn't a great idea, but at least it's been done in your own time.

And largely, people mature and their online footprint will reflect that. A drunken or idiotic post from four years ago shouldn't count against somebody who is articulate, thoughtful and has a well-connected online presence - and doesn't drunk Tweet.

As with most aspects of online life, it's about context. That said, given that fewer than half of the young adults surveyed had conducted an online audit of their profile, it's probably no bad thing to check your Facebook privacy settings and be a little less hasty with the Tweet button - and that's something that can probably be said for all of us. Especially Ollie.