The unattended interview: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll photos on Facebook

By Tammy L. Croghan, Ph. D.
Northwestern State University of Louisiana

The last decade has seen a proliferation of online social networks (Classmates, Facebook, MySpace, Reunion/MyLife, Twitter, to name just an infinitesimally small few) frequented by the Internet-savvy, but most often by members of the Millennial or Net Generation. According to Schaffhauser (2008), “Students are heavy users of social networks…. Facebook is by far more popular both overall and in terms of frequency of use. Eighty percent of students use Facebook compared to 40 percent for MySpace.” According to data collected by Facebook about its users (Smith, 2009), there were over 20 million Facebook users between the ages of 18-25 (26% greater than the 2nd largest age cohort of Facebook users: 26-34 year-olds) and these statistics were compiled in the summer when “millenials” use Facebook less. Like many traditional four-year colleges and universities, most of the college students at the medium-sized university where I teach and referenced in this article are millenials. It is not uncommon for them to use several social networking sites during a day. For most of my upper-level undergraduates though, Facebook is the preferred website by which they communicate with their family, friends, and acquaintances. At my university, the number of students using computer labs to access Facebook has been so problematic at times (especially during midterm and final exam weeks) that the administration has sought to limit or outright prohibit student access to all social networking websites.

Despite my millenials obvious prowess with most things technological, they naively and quite mistakenly assume that only their friends (or friends of friends) can access their social networking pages. Every Spring, I teach an interviewing class for our Communication majors and graduating seniors preparing to enter the workforce. We spend a lot of time refining resume’s and curriculum vitae’s, practicing myriad types of interviews (e.g., phone, face-to-face, web, and so on), and evaluating my students’ online personas. Most of my graduating seniors are or have been employed while attending college usually part-time or seasonally at entry-level service or retail jobs. Since the jobs my students have had allowed them limited access to sensitive company information, their employers usually did a pretty cursory background check of their education, references, and criminal record (to make certain that they hadn’t killed anyone) and hired them. McDonald’s, for example, does not usually care what you post on your Facebook page if you work in a non-managerial position (at least right now), but many employers that hire our graduating seniors do. I call evaluation of potential employees using their social networking pages an unattended interview because the interviewee is often totally unaware where and when this assessment of their online personas is occurring.

The frequency with which companies are using these “unattended interviews” is increasing rapidly. According to a CBS (Amy Clark, 2006), experts believed that around 20% of employers in 2006 were scanning the social networking sites used by potential employees. A story in the Oregon Business Report (2009) cites a 2009 CareerBuilder survey of employers that found that 45% are now searching social networking sites of prospective employees. The trend by corporations and businesses to find out more information about their possible hires will likely continue to increase until it becomes standard business practice (or legislation limits or prohibits organizations from collecting this type of information). Nonetheless, it behooves us as educators to prepare our students for the employment process including evaluating and cleaning up their social network pages and making their online personas more professional. To assist my students in evaluating their own Facebook pages, I give the following advice.


Since many of my students post anything and everything that they do to Facebook, I tell them that they need to evaluate all their social networking sites to make certain that their pages reflect what employers want to see online from their prospective employees. CareerBuilder (, 2009) when analyzing the data from their 2009 survey to employers who scanned social networking sites found:

The Top Reasons Employers Disregarded Candidates After Screening Online

53% posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information.
44% posted content about them drinking or using drugs.
35% bad-mouthed their previous employer, co-workers or clients.
29% showed poor communication skills.
26% made discriminatory comments.
24% lied about qualifications.
20% shared confidential information from a previous employer.
16% using text jargon like GR8 (great) or U (you) in an email
or on the job application.
14% sent a message using an emoticon such as a smiley face.

The Top Reasons Employers Hired Candidates After Screening Online

50% suggested a good fit for the business and the candidate’s personality.
39% supported the candidate’s professional qualifications.
38% was creative.
35% showed solid communication skills.
33% was well-rounded.
19% other people posted good references about the candidate.
15% received awards and accolades.


While I am the first to tell my students how valuable it is to give your Facebook pages a thorough vetting before going out on the job market, it is also necessary to keep in mind that not all employers are looking for the same thing. For example, my students who are planning on teaching in elementary or secondary schools should keep appropriate photos and posts about students who they have taught. A silly picture with a second-grader is probably not going to be perceived negatively by a superintendent looking to a hire an elementary school teacher. That same photo could, however, result in not getting hired by a large Public Relations firm. During the Spring semester, I had a student that was incredibly bright and cheerful who had done an exceptional job of removing all of her obviously problematic photos and posts from her Facebook pages. I have my students work in pairs to check their Facebook pages to make certain that the smallest details are checked. Most the time, a classmate will find the at least one photo with somebody in the background drinking or a post referencing something untoward. In her case, we found several photos that she thought were totally innocuous because she was just being goofy with her friends, but to her classmate (and me) she looked inebriated or in some other way impaired because of the expression on her face. Having known her for four years, I am certain that the photos were innocuous but the Human Resource personnel at the companies to which she applied would not. A Reuters news story by David Gregorio supports my claim. Gregorio (2009) cites a Seattle-based Public Relations professional who contends that sordid photos and lewd posts are not the only issues that turn off employers, seemingly mundane comments about “colonoscopies, dead teeth pulled, dead dogs, flatulence, adult acne, marital breakups, battles with mental illnesses, and drinking problems” can be just as harmful. She concludes that “If this information can make friends cringe... imagine the impression it would make on a potential employer.” Job hunters should pay particular attention to “overshare” on their Facebook and all other social networking pages.


The last bit of advice I have for my students, or anyone going on the job market, is play it safe. Change your Facebook privacy settings to keep personal information from prying employers. Clean up your Facebook and other accounts regularly. If you cannot or will not remove your provocative photos and unseemly posts, create another Facebook account for just your friends. Finally, keep a professional sounding email account for contacting potential employers, nothing says hire me like which I fervently hope that isn’t anyone’s actual email. For other ideas about cleaning up your Facebook account look at For ideas about using Facebook to market yourself (for a fee), checkout


Clark, A. (Producer). (2006, June 20). Employers look at Facebook, too. The CBS evening news [Television broadcast]. New York: Central Broadcasting Service. Retrieved from main1734920.shtml

Franzen, W. (2008, September 3). Use Facebook ads to make employers hunt you down. One Day One Job. Retrieved from

Gregorio, D. (2009, August 6). Be careful what you post online, career counselors warn. New York: Thomson Reuters. Retrieved from

Hale, A. (2009, February 24). Make sure your Facebook profile doesn’t lose you a job. Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life. Retreived from

Oregon Business Report (2009, August 24). 45% Employers use Facebook-Twitter to screen job candidates. Retrieved from

Schaffhauser, D. (2008). Facebook still no. 1 among college students. Campus Technology. Retrieved from

Smith J. (2009). College Students’ Facebook Use Easing Up Over the Summer, While Parents Logging On in Record Numbers. Inside Facebook: Tracking Facebook and the Facebook Platform for Developers and Marketers. Retrieved from