It is understandable that every person may, while having fun, take a few crazy pictures. However, what you need to keep in mind is that although that night was a lot of fun, the pictures may be less than appealing to people who weren’t there to enjoy it….such as people in the HR Department at the company where you hope to get hired. It’s a fact: businesses do not just look at your resume. Many of them dig deeper and do background checks, which can include your Facebook page and other social networking sites.

As you probably know, Facebook allows you to connect to friends, tag pictures, and set up wall posts. However, the pictures that you post and tag are left open to viewing and interpretation by others. A picture of you at a party with beer cans all around looks, to you, like a fun night with some friends. But to the HR person it may appear that you are a party animal, or worse, an alcoholic. Depending on the nature of the job and who is doing the research, even a single bottle or can in the picture could be devastating to your chances of being hired.

These days there are a lot more people looking for work than there are job openings to be filled. Some companies will receive hundreds if not thousands of resumes, and will cut the number down to just twenty-five before actually reading them. Even the smallest of reasons—a misspelled word, or an unattractive layout—can lead to rejection. If you make it past that point, the last thing you would want to do is give them some other obvious reason to rule you out…but it happens. In one instance, the President of an organization was waiting for a candidate to arrive for an interview, and decided to take a look at the person’s Facebook page. Thanks to some inappropriate photos, the candidate was history before he even started his interview.

If you think this is the exception, think again. According to an NBC Nightly News report from 2008, about 77% of employers were using search engines to evaluate candidates, and 35% had eliminated candidates based on the information they found. Two years later, you can bet that those percentages are even higher.

So your future is on the line. What do you do? For starters, imagine you are the HR interviewer. You have four candidates, and in preparation for the interview you go online and see that:

n  John posted a picture of himself playing beer pong

n  Lucy appears in a photo with two other girls, all dancing on a tabletop in a bar

n  Luke’s picture shows him slouched on a couch, watching tv with some other guys, and there are beer cans all over the place

n  A picture on Janet’s page shows her and a friend just laying out in a park

Who would you choose? John seems like a party boy who drinks all the time and possibly just plays with alcohol. Lucy seems to be out of control and possibly a party girl. Luke’s photo makes him look unappealing, and also a heavy drinker, while Janet’s picture shows nothing very impressive, but there is nothing suggestive of bad behavior, either. So if these were the only four to choose from, Janet would get the job.

Basically, if you are serious about life after school, monitor the pictures (and other stuff) you put up for the public—and the HR department—to find.

Thanks for that invitation to add more pearls of wisdom, Brian – and, of course, thanks for that great blog entry.  Here, from the other side of the desk is one for potential interviewees to consider.

What happens on the web does not stay on the web.  Read the results of the Microsoft Data Privacy Day study here to learn how HR finds out about your online reputation.

The one thing I didn’t see in the study is how those of us who are likely to be called by HR to get a reference check on you are influenced by what you put on the web about your time with us.

Hiring managers don’t look for the pictures of you and your friends downing your first keg and hurling on each other.  And they don’t read the long missives about how someone broke your heart and how you will never love again.  What they do follow are Google Alerts and TweetBeeps and such that let them know when their companies, products, and names appear on the web.  They like those to be accurate and when they aren’t, they remember.  And they pass that information around so anyone else in their company likely to be tagged for a reference for you knows you posted it.  It’s just like when you were a kid and your parents seemed to have a third eye on the back of their heads because they always knew what you were doing.

Moral of the story: Clear what you write with the people who will be called to verify it – BEFORE you post it!

They’re watching you.