I recently interviewed a young woman for a marketing position. Since I expect all candidates to conduct as much research on my company and me before coming in, I often plug their names or e-mail addresses into MySpace or Facebook to see what, if anything, pops up.
I like to prepare for meetings by knowing as much as I can about the people I'm going to meet.
My first question to this particular woman, after having read her profile on the popular online social network, was "What's a watermelon floater?" She laughed and said, "Oh, you do MySpace too," and she proceeded to explain this mixed drink.
She passed my mini test. She wasn't flustered or nervous. She was poised and confident, which isn't always the reaction you get. But not everyone stays so cool. As an interviewer, it's important to get a sense for how someone will react under pressure.
Sometimes candidates became nervous when they realize that an interviewer has seen their provocative photos and salacious profiles plastered on the Internet. That shows me they might not be great under pressure or they might not react well to the unexpected. Like most employers, I want to hire people who aren't easily flummoxed and can easily go with the flow, which certainly includes handling curveballs.
The Unexpected Interview Question
Speaking of unanticipated interview questions, I asked a college senior how she enjoyed her spring break in the Caribbean. She panicked. "Oh. Wait. Um, uh ... did I tell you I was going to the Islands or ... wait ...did you find my pictures on MySpace?"
I said nothing, waiting for her to figure out the answer herself. While that may sound cruel on my part, I wanted her to regain her composure and think through the situation. Turns out, she was defensive for a reason.
I wasn't entirely sure why she suddenly appeared so nervous and uncomfortable. While she had told me that was going on this trip just before we scheduled the interview, it turns out she had posted beer-and-bikini photos with wild captions on her blog. Sitting now in her beautiful business attire, she worried that I might've seen those revealing snapshots.
Truth is, I hadn't seen the photos before our conversation. But even if I had, I would never have held that against her or passed judgment about her ability to do the job she was interviewing for. Her lapse in grace under pressure in my office made more of an impression than any photos could.
Keep Things in Perspective
Like most employers, I recognize that everyone is entitled to pursue fun and frivolity on their personal time. (Some of that in the office is not a bad thing either.) I wouldn't want my new hires to be boring and bland. But I do expect them to recognize that anything they post on the Internet -- from pictures on social sites to political rantings on blogs -- is fodder for conversation and, in some cases, will cost them opportunities without them even realizing it. And just as the things they do before they are hired are a reflection of them, the things they do once they're in the office are a reflection of the company.
So remember, nothing wrong with letting loose, but try to keep things in perspective. You'll be fine as long as you're comfortable knowing that current and future colleagues and employers -- especially those Internet savvy sleuths -- can and will find whatever you decide to put out on the world wide web. Be prepared to be held accountable.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. To connect directly with Johnson, visit www.womenforhire.com.