How Much Should Employers Care About Applicants’ Social Media?

It’s 2019, and almost everyone you know is on social media, from my mom who just made an Instagram to my boss whose Facebook friend request has been sitting untouched for the past three years. Even whole companies have large social media presences (hi), and many have made a name for themselves by being the opposite of what’s seen as “professional”, i.e. being snarky to consumers, using explicit language, etc. Lookin’ at you, Wendy’s! So it came as a shock when Emily Clow got publicly shamed by a company she applied to work at for committing the crime of… showing some underboob in a months-old swimsuit picture on her personal Instagram. She found out on that company’s actual Instagram Story, where they’d posted a screenshot of her offending bathing suit pic and admonished, “do not share your social media with a potential employer if this is the kind of content on it.” For the full story, and an interview with Clow, read here.

To be clear, Kickass Masterminds was 100% completely in the wrong, not necessarily for disqualifying an applicant based on their social media photos, but for publicly shaming her using the company’s social media platform. It’s pretty much the height of irony for them to use the company Instagram to target one applicant for “being unprofessional.” It’s the pot calling the kettle unprofessional. Still, this whole story got me thinking about the role of social media in job applications and what’s still seen as unprofessional online.

When I first applied for jobs way back in 2013, I had been hit over the head with the same messaging: don’t post photos of you drinking, doing drugs, or showing cleavage. Put your profile on super-duper private so employers can’t find something that will reflect poorly on you. (That’s actually how I started the Sara F Carter moniker in the first place—I wanted something so dissimilar from my real name that employers would never think to search it. And the rest is history!) It’s not 2013 anymore, though. You can be colloquial on Twitter. You can make a whole career out of posting sexy photos on Instagram. So should we hold the same overcautious standards that we did when social media was in its infancy?

On the one hand, it certainly can’t hurt. Beth Benatti Kennedy, leadership coach, speaker, and author of Career ReCharge: Five Strategies to Boost Resilience and Beat Burnout, still feels it’s better to be safe than sorry. Before posting, she advises there are a few questions to consider: “Does the post or picture represent the brand or reputation you want to have personally and professionally? Why are you posting? Would you be comfortable with a child or teenager viewing it?”

On the other hand, the rules are changing, and not every company expects prospective employees to be totally buttoned-up in their personal life. Lauren Berger, the CEO/Founder of and and author of GET IT TOGETHER, has helped companies hire interns and full-time employees, and she says, “there’s no overarching rule here. Know the company, the company’s culture, and the demands of a specific role.” The best way to do that, she says, is to check out the company’s social media. And, even better, “if you know people who work at the company, chat with them about company culture, dress code, and perspective—and check out their profiles as well.” But if you don’t have a woman on the inside, it’s not a big deal. Berger has a pretty balanced perspective: “If you feel that you should censor your social media a bit, do it. But if there are certain photos that are ‘authentically you’ and display a part of your personality, leave it.” 

For the sake of transparency, I’ve had pretty nontraditional jobs, so my opinion on what should or shouldn’t be posted is probably a little more lax than most. I did have one run-in when I applied for a TV internship via Skype interview, and they gently told me afterwards that while they didn’t care, it would be a good idea for me to change my default Skype photo from one where I was smiling and holding up two flasks. Which is pretty chill, considering that, as a 20-year-old, what I was doing was straight-up illegal. If I’d gotten turned down because of that, I would have understood—it was boneheaded and unprofessional (not to mention, against the law). But there’s a big difference between doing something illegal and showing your body on your feed. Without getting too far into the gendered double standards at play, should those things disqualify a candidate equally? Should the latter disqualify you at all?


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A swing and a miss (twitter: _Danny_Boy1)

A post shared by When’s Happy Hour? (@whenshappyhr) on

Becky Bush, who runs the popular website The Typical Twenty Something, which offers career tips and resources, was bewildered by Clow’s story. “Although it’s wild to believe, the reality is that companies are using social media to screen potential employees,” she says. Overall, she urges applicants exercise caution. “Even though you and I think it’s totally acceptable to put party or bikini pictures up on social media, I would be careful when applying to jobs. My main concern during any application process is that I have no idea who is on the other end of the ‘submit’ button.” Such was the case with Clow, who applied to what she thought was a forward-thinking female-run marketing company. Surprise!

But with companies searching out applicants’ social media handles, and sometimes even outright asking for them in the job application (I’ve had this happen numerous times), the line between being forthcoming and shooting yourself in the foot can get blurred. Bush says that there can be situations in which it’s beneficial to share your social handles with a potential employer. “If for some reason Instagram is part of a job or a side hustle you currently have (i.e. you are a blogger, influencer),” she says, “keep it public—you should bring your whole self to work. If the company isn’t into that, they’re not for you!”

Berger echoes, “If the position DOES have to do with social media/marketing, think of your profile as your personal website or an opportunity to show off what creativity you bring to the table and use your own platform to test out different ideas.” But, at the end of the day, “If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your handle, don’t share it. Ideally, you are proud of what you post and put out there to the world (and confident in what you bring to the table—personally and professionally) so in most cases—you’d probably just send it to them.”

That’s because ultimately, you can’t know what an employer is looking or screening for in a social media sweep. According to Berger, there could be a variety of motivations: “they might be looking for a theme or visual story that you’re telling on your own feed. They may assume that if your social is ‘on point,’ you could help them take their platforms to the next level.” Then again, they may be looking to flag “inappropriate photos,” but the problem with that is, “you can’t control other people’s definitions of inappropriate. And sometimes your photos and the executives mindset won’t sync and that’s okay.” (And sometimes, they’ll publicly shame you and you’ll get revenge on them by making them go viral for all the wrong reasons.)

Finally, there may not even be a shady reason behind wanting to stalk you on IG. “They also could be genuinely looking at your social to learn more about you, to look at your hobbies and what you enjoy outside of the office. Some executives LOVE seeing personality come through on social.” Finding a candidate who fits in with the company culture can be just as important as finding someone who is qualified.

The difficulty with searching applicants’ social media profiles to glean clues about how they will behave professionally probably seems obvious to millennials. As Bush puts it, “so much of social media is not someone’s ‘whole self’ and really doesn’t give an accurate depiction.” While Bush emphasizes, “I personally don’t think anyone should ever judge you for your socials (or anything you do in your spare time really, that doesn’t affect your work),” that’s just not the world we live in. From an employer’s perspective, they want to get to know a candidate as much as possible for extending an offer. So while employers are probably not going to stop creeping on applicants sometime in the future, you can choose to limit your audience. Or you can just say f*ck it and live your life. Berger says, “Some companies are very conservative, not only regarding social media, but in the office as well. Perhaps, if you are outspoken—visually and otherwise—on social media, that’s not the right company for you to work.” At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be a one-way street: you should be evaluating the company just as they are evaluating you. Who knows, you could, as in Clow’s case, dodge a huge bullet.

Images: sheratesdogs, betchesluvthis / Twitter; whenshappyhr / Instagram

A Company Shamed An Applicant For Her IG Pic & It’s Backfiring Spectacularly

Yesterday started out just like any other mediocre American Tuesday. Birds were singing, politicians were tweeting, and millennials around the country were trying to find jobs that would help them pay off their thousands of dollars in student loan debt while simultaneously not making them want to die (aka: the dream). 

So, naturally, when 24-year-old Emily Clow went to apply for a Marketing Coordinator position with the company, Kickass Masterminds, she didn’t exactly have the highest of hopes. I mean, this is 2019. People with their masters are working at The Gap and as the great Pam Beesly once said, “I applied to Old Navy, Target and Wal-mart. None of ’em called me back. Not even for an interview.”

Things are pretty bleak in the ol’ job market for us. 

Clow’s mentality? Best case, she’d get a neat job with what appeared to be a cool, female-forward company in the general direction she was hoping to take her career. Worst case? She’d never hear back from them and will have wasted a few minutes of her life by applying via the Indeed easy application service.

OR SO SHE THOUGHT *bum bum bum*!!!!!!!!!!!

After applying on Indeed around 9:40am, Clow was sent a link with the second part of the application asking about her marketing background, how she would describe herself, to tell a story proving her “grit and toughness,” etc. etc. etc. Usual HR bs to weed out the weirdos. This is where things take a turn for the ~scandalous.~

According to Clow, just after submitting the second half of her application, a message appeared saying that “following their Instagram gives applicants an advantage over other applicants.”

And because our girl gets after it, she gave the company a follow around 11:15am. She scrolled through its posts. She checked out its audience. And then, she clicked on its stories.

There, posted for the company’s followers, interested candidates, and quite literally anyone else with internet access to see, was a bikini photo taken from Emily Clow’s very own Instagram that was posted in JUNE. And because words will never do justice to just how f*cked up this post was, I’ll allow you to see for yourself:


— Emily Clow (@emilyeclow) October 1, 2019

Ho-ly f*ck, right?

“I was shocked to see an employer I was intrigued by and hoping to at least interview with would shame me so publicly through their company Instagram,” said Clow. “It took me a while to read the captions of the story fully.”

And once she did? Things didn’t really get better. I mean, imagine seeing one of your (warranted and acceptable, albeit envy-inducing) like-trap swimsuit photos being literally blasted around the internet saying “this is how you don’t get jobs.” F*cked up, right?

“It made me feel as if they were judging my bikini pics and comparing it to my work ethic, which they hadn’t even discussed with me or past employers with at this time.”

THEY DIDN’T EVEN TALK TO HER CONTACTS. They just saw her hot-ass profile and were like “nope, this girl posts pictures in her swimsuit. In 2019. Let’s shame the sh*t out of her for being hot? Being confident? Understanding the market of her followers? Instead of just casually rejecting her resume without making a fuss (which is still, of course, f*cked up).”

The craziest part? Clow wasn’t even following them yet when they posted the picture. She didn’t send her Facebook with her resume (because she’s not a mom with cats and attachment issues), and she didn’t even send a f*cking headshot, which is something I guess hot people do sometimes for influencer and brand ambassador positions. She straight up just sent her resume and got this nonsense. And at first? The shaming worked.

“I sat on the decision to reach out for a bit, but I did eventually stating how I had archived the picture,” which is now, thankfully, back. Because a picture that good does not belong hidden in archives because some assholes made you feel falsely inferior, “along with an ‘I appreciate the advice’ message.”

Ready for it guys? Ready? READY? It’s so good. Here’s the response she got:

“I sent an email shortly after my first DM to the company saying how I recently applied to the Marketing Coordinator position. I attached my resume and cover letter for their convenience, acknowledged that they were going through applications, and said how I hoped to hear from them soon in regard to the position. At the end of the email, I stated, ‘PS — Please take down the picture of me from your Instagram story. Thank you for understanding.’”

Even at THIS point, Clow is being gracious despite the fact that this is some mean girl sh*t if I’ve ever seen it. Wanna guess how the company responded?

“The company blocked me after they replied ‘Best of luck,’ on Instagram.”

They blocked her. This “marketing” (I put it in quotes because this is the silliest example of marketing I’ve ever seen) “company” (I put this in quotes because I’m on the edge of my seat to see if this will still even be a company by the time this piece publishes) blocked an applicant who politely asked them to take down a harassing photo of her that she didn’t give permission for them to use. 

Whew! What is this? The marketing team of Caroline Calloway? Kidding, they would never make a mistake like this. Anyway, I digress. At this point, Clow is starting to get rightfully upset. I would have f*cking burned sh*t down by now, but she’s been handling this straight-up sexual harassment with a patience and inner zen that I have never known.

So, after the company put her on blast for no reason, blocked her, AND shamed her, she decided it was time to turn the tables juuuuuust a little bit. 

“I posted a personal story tagging the company and calling out their behavior on my personal Instagram and Twitter after they blocked me.”

Now, before we move forward, I need to tell you all a secret: I know Emily Clow. I’ve worked with Emily Clow. I’ve hung out with Emily Clow. And I get the whole “how can girls be hot and also smart, driven, AND cool” jealousy that exists, but the thing is? Emily Clow is one down-to-Earth bitch. I hate everyone and trust me, I tried. But she’s kinda the full package. So, knowing this, I was outraged (and now officially invested).

So, just after posting to Twitter and getting a HEAP of responses (yet still no response from Kickass Masterminds and STILL no removal of her photo), Clow decided to send screenshots to @sheratesdogs around 1:30pm in the hopes that a large account could help get her photo down. Less than an hour later, @sheratesdogs posted the story.

This girl applied for an internship at a company, and they put up this screenshot of her in a bikini on their company Instagram, publicly telling everybody they wouldn’t hire her because of this photo.

— SheRatesDogs (@SheRatesDogs) October 1, 2019

Less than two hours later, Kickass Masterminds’ Instagram went private (not to mention the photo was deleted without comment), and less than an hour after THAT their entire web presence went dark. The job listing was taken down. The website was mysteriously down for “scheduled” lol “maintenance” lol. The company metaphorically (and maybe literally) packed up, shredded the files, burned down the building, jumped ship, and pretended this ish never happened. 

Naturally, as someone who loves drama to fight injustice, I had to get to the bottom of what type of company would pull this punkass move. Turns out? It’s a female-founded, female-run company headed by Sara Christensen, who just so happens to be the smiling face of the girl who basically told Clow to eff off. The misogyny is coming from inside the house!

According to The Pitch Queen (where she guest-starred on a podcast):

 “Sara Christensen is the feisty founder of Kickass Masterminds. She’s been a successful business owner for more than 20 years, starting and running five of her own profitable companies. Her largest business was producing revenue of $10 million per year and had 75 full-time employees when she sold it. She’s also owned a Marketing Communications Firm, a Jewelry Design Studio and a Wellness Business.

Before devoting her work full-time to her own businesses, Sara worked as the Head of Marketing and Business Development for several dot-com and high-tech companies.

She’s also a best-selling author and keynote speaker.”

Author, you say? Keynote speaker, you say? Let us dig. I (naturally) had to find her book and (naturally) had to see what sort of ideas she was peddling. Maybe tips about what to wear to the pool in 1812? How to feel less confident in your skin? How to be a smokeshow but not let people know you’re a smokeshow in your posts even though you’re obviously a smokeshow? 

Nah, just a good old fashioned “love yourself and stand up for yourself even though you’re a woman in corporate America” bit. Lolz.

Lurve how this is the back of #KickassMasterminds founder, Sara Christensen's book.

— Rachel Varina (@rachelvarina) October 2, 2019

So, Sara’s literal WHOLE brand is about learning to stop caring what people think to get ahead in business. You know, kind of what our girl Clow was doing when she APPLIED FOR THE POSITION. Gosh, I love the irony and trust me, it wasn’t lost on Clow.

“I am utterly baffled and appalled that a company started by women and that preaches about rebelling against corporate America would objectify applicants and use a traditional mindset when reviewing someone interested in marketing. I don’t believe it is unprofessional to wear a bathing suit during the summer in Austin. I didn’t realize being comfortable with my body while embodying a strong work ethic was so taboo.”

Neither did we, Clow. Neither did we. To say it’s baffling to the entire internet would be a massive freaking understatement at this point. 

this is fucking hilarious, considering

— Emily Clow (@emilyeclow) October 1, 2019

At this point, I don’t know if Sara was the one who posted the photo or if some social media intern royally f*cked up, but the point is: Kickass Masterminds is well on its way to going viral, and not for the reason any company would want. But hey, any press is good press, right Sara?

“What I find incredible is the amount of support I have received,” said Clow. “Obviously, @sheratesdogs posting my story is the sole reason why the company went completely dark. I don’t know if I should thank them or not for it, but being able to have a voice in a generation where you can so easily be ignored really is powerful. Yeah, we made a small company in Austin go dark because they objectified me, but we still made a difference.

If it wasn’t me, they would’ve done it to another applicant and who knows what could have happened. I am glad to have been able to speak out and shed light on an issue that is very common (although I didn’t think it was in Austin anymore).”

Unfortunately for any of you wannabe marketers out there dying to join this cutting-edge company, it appears Kickass Masterminds is no longer accepting applications. Womp womp.

The best part? After all of this started going down, Clow received a notification that her application was viewed again by the company at 3:47pm on October 1st, a little over an hour after the story started getting traction online. Guess the applicant made quite the impression, huh?

So, when asked if Clow would take the position if it was offered to her now, (because at this point, who knows what will happen? The company could come back and be like “hey! We’ll make you president if you don’t sue”) she gave a resounding “FUUUUUCK NO.” JK, Clow is classier than that. What she did say, however, is:

“Absolutely not. One person said in my mentions to the company that, ‘it should make any person afraid to work in your organization for fear that they are going to be objectified and sexualized for just living their lives.’ I stand by that statement 110%. While I have considered legal action, with my name and face not being displayed in the story, there isn’t much I can do.”

So, what does Clow want to do now that she’s quite literally proven herself as a bomb-ass marketer, having gained close to 400 followers in like, 12 hours?

“I am looking at sales, marketing, and social media jobs. My dream job would be with Red Bull Media. The number of people, teams, and events they sponsor is absurd. To be a part of an ever-growing marketing team whose exposure is expanding exponentially would be incredible.”

Get at it, Red Bull. You know our girl is gonna get poached in a heartbeat because when all is said and done NOBODY PUTS CLOW IN THE CORNER!

Still, Sara Christensen has stated that it wasn’t the photo that disqualified Clow. In fact, Clow wasn’t disqualified at all. From Daily Mail:

“The woman in question was not disqualified because of her social media profile. In fact, she was not disqualified at all. There was no communication to her saying she was disqualified.

She requested that I remove it and I did immediately.”

Weird, because it sort of seemed like she was disqualified when her photo was posted on the company’s Instagram with the note about how that’s not how you get a job. Curious. Anyway, Clow’s response to all of this?

“I would hope they take a step back and reevaluate how they approach the vetting process for applicants. In our day in age, social media has become so loose and accepted by most employers as NOT representing someone’s work ethic and experience. I hope in the future that no other applicant has this experience. Although it has sparked a discussion about social media and job hunting, I don’t think a bikini pic should judge someone’s ability to do a job successfully.”

I’ll say it again for the folks in the back: NOBODY PUTS CLOW IN THE CORNER!!!!!!!!!!!

Images: emilyeclow (2), sheratesdogs, rachelvarina / Twitter; clowd_nine (2) / Instagram;;