Job Seekers: Be Careful Posting about Politics Online

What you post online can have consequences and impact beyond your intention.
What you post online can have consequences and impact beyond your intention. (Carrie David Campbell/U.S. Army graphic)

Q: This election year, I've become very active in online conversations and debates about national politics. Could this hurt my job prospects?

A: There is a common belief that your social media profiles, walls and content are yours to do with whatever you want. While it's true that you can post images, updates, messages and beliefs (within the platform's guidelines), what you post online can have consequences and impact beyond your intention.

More and more, recruiters and hiring managers are viewing job candidates' online profiles to gain insight and understanding of the person's values, interests, contacts and behavior.

Consider This Scenario

Joe is passionate about Candidate A becoming elected to the U.S. presidency. Joe participates in local rallies, puts yard signs in his lawn and shares disparaging cartoons about Presidential Candidate B to show his support for the alternative candidate. Taking his passion further, Joe writes blogs, online posts and comments on other people's social profiles about his dislike for Candidate B and his advocacy of Candidate A. He ridicules people who don't support his views.

Susan, a hiring manager, is considering Joe for an open position. She has reviewed Joe's resume and spoken to a few of Joe's personal references. Joe's resume shows him to be thoughtful, smart and loyal to a mission or cause. His references speak to his strong work ethic, his commitment to completing a task and his ability to build strong teams.

When Susan enters Joe's full name into Google and a few social media platforms, what she sees is a very different side of Joe. His passion, loyalty and commitment to a cause are evident in his support of Candidate A ..., but so is his use of foul language, inappropriate (and offensive) humor and bullying behavior.

The Risk and Reward of Considering Joe

Will Susan take a chance on pursuing Joe for a position? She's likely evaluating the risks of moving forward with Joe, which include:

  • Is the animosity he shares online who Joe really is?
  • Are there indicators of violence or erratic behavior in Joe's interactions online?
  • Could his online behavior indicate how he will react to conflict on the job?
  • Does his outspoken political position pose any risk for the company?

Susan knows the legal parameters of considering Joe's online activity in evaluating him for a job, but she also can't unsee what she's seen.

She considers his online activity from another perspective:

  • Is Joe exhibiting passion for an idea, cause and belief, which reinforces the positive traits his references spoke about?
  • Does he write and communicate effectively?
  • Is he showing a commitment to his ideas, values and beliefs in a way that could benefit the company?
  • Is Joe showing leadership potential in how he engages with others online?

If you stay within the rules and guidelines of the social platform, you technically are complying. But consider that civilian employers are evaluating more than just experience, skills and compliance in their job candidates. They want to see passion, enthusiasm and values that align with the company's beliefs.

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