When Cara MacDonald placed an ad on Craigslist for an administrative assistant, the last thing she expected to get was a peep show. But that's exactly what she found when one of the job applicants sent a link to her personal Web site, complete with YouTube videos.
"Intrigued and admittedly nosy," MacDonald followed the link, horrified to find a clip of the woman dancing provocatively in a lacy lingerie top and super-short mini skirt.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
"Periodically, throughout those five minutes of disturbia, she flashes the camera, and it's 'I see London, I see France -- she's not wearing underpants!'" said MacDonald, a member services manager at HigherBracket.ca, an executive job search site that caters to six-figure earners in Canada.
"I'm not sure I would even believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes. If only I could un-see it now."
Needless to say, the dancing queen wasn't contacted for an interview. After all, sex only sells if you want a job in the adult entertainment industry.
But posting suggestive videos of yourself on YouTube, filling your Facebook page with photos of your latest beer bong-a-thon, or blogging about how much you wish your current employer would implode, aren't the only ways to blow your chances of landing a new job. (Yes, Virginia, like it or not, hiring managers do Google you.)
Some digital deal breakers are less obvious. So, if you're thinking about using a personal site, an online resume, a job search site, or a social networking site to woo potential employers, listen up.
The Devil's in the Digital Details
In case no one's enlightened you, IM-speak like "would luv 2 work 4 u!" has no place in your cover letters, even those you e-mail or submit through a job search site like Monster. Same goes for smiley faces and any variation of the acronym "LOL."
But it's not just the text message set who make the mistake of letting down their digital guard while job hunting.
Nicole Cox, director of recruitment for Decision Toolbox, an online recruiting firm based in Irvine, Calif., found herself less than impressed with a candidate who entered his resume in the company's online database -- along with the username "Sexpig."
"It's amazing that candidates don't think about the employer or recruiting firm having access to the data," Cox said.
Another one that gets recruiters chuckling: Candidates who post their resume on a job board and mark it "confidential" (presumably because they don't want their boss to know they're shopping around) but forget to remove their name and current company data.
Then there's the pesky matter of overly personal e-mail handles.
"Don't use something like 'email@example.com' or 'firstname.lastname@example.org' when you're sending out resumes or corresponding with possible employers," advised Beth Morgan, founder of ConnectNC, Inc., a Web design and hosting firm in Southern Pines, N.C. "It tells me you're not very smart."
"You Are the Weakest Link!"
A survey conducted in April by staffing firm Robert Half International found that 62 percent of senior executives from the nation's 1,000 largest companies believe that professional networking sites like LinkedIn will play a significant role in their recruiting during the next three years.
Curious about how execs are already using LinkedIn, I called Josh Warborg, district president of the Pacific Northwest division of Robert Half International.
"One, it's a way to generate referrals from other people," he said. "Two, you can post jobs directly so that all members on the site can see them. And three, managers can scour the sites and find hidden talent."
Even so, there are numerous ways to shoot yourself in the foot on LinkedIn -- for example, pestering utter strangers to give you a job, write you a recommendation, or add you to their network (better to ask a mutual contact to "introduce" you instead).
Then there's falsifying your profile, which, as social media expert Tim Poindexter will attest, is a surefire way to turn off hiring managers.
Poindexter, a community manager at Disaboom.com, a Denver-based Web community for those with disabilities, recently had to retract a job offer from an entry-level candidate who proved to be a LinkedIn liar. Shortly after extending the offer, Poindexter Googled the new hire and found that his assistant-to-be's LinkedIn profile had been updated to include a nonexistent position at Disaboom -- as Poindexter's supervisor.
Big Brother Really Is Watching
If you think twenty-somethings hold a monopoly on revealing too much skin or information online, you're wrong. (Remember the Arlington, Ore., mayor who was booted from office earlier this year over MySpace photos she'd posted of herself in a black bra and panties?)
So, once more I'd like to remind you that, like it or not, many employers are paying attention to everything you do, say, and post online. According to that Robert Half International survey, 35 percent of executives plan to mine social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace for possible job candidates in the coming three years.
"In this day and age, people like to see more of a personality because resumes are so dry," said Tom Moore, CEO and co-founder of ROCS, a Fairfax, Va., staffing firm for recent college grads. "Resumes just don't paint a full picture of the person. Looking at their online profile is just one little thing you can do to get to know them better before or after they come in to interview."
But besides keeping your profiles, photos, and posts office-appropriate, and being selective about who you accept as an online "friend," what can you do to keep your digital nose clean?
Avoid changing your Facebook status to "Interviewing at Amazon.com today. Wish me luck. Oh, and don't tell my boss." And if you can't fight the urge to share that not-safe-for-work side of yourself online, it's not enough to blog anonymously or use pseudonyms for your social network profiles. You need to password-protect your blog entries and set your profiles to private so that only those you approve can see the real you.
But don't just take my word for it. Listen to Sara Champion, 28, a project manager at Plaid, a design and marketing firm in Danbury, Conn., who was asked to share her Facebook and MySpace profiles as part of the application process for her current position:
"There is definitely a line you don't want to cross. No one wants to look at your profile and learn that you've proudly called in sick on Monday due to a hangover."
This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) — offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com