ADVISES – December 2012

Young adults: Avoid these privacy red flags

Young adults applying for college or preparing to enter the workforce are sometimes shocked to find out that that certain behaviors that were either tolerated or ignored when they were younger now fall under closer scrutiny and could actually hurt their advancement possibilities. Among the biggest culprits are oversharing sensitive personal information in public forums and getting extreme tattoos or body art that may not yet be fully acceptable in certain work environments.

Red flags. It should be common knowledge that many employers perform online profile searches of job or internship candidates. They’ll scour public postings on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube looking for inappropriate content like racy photos or videos, racist remarks or evidence of illegal activities that would rule inappropriate candidates.

But many people don’t realize that colleges, insurance companies, law enforcement and government agencies sometimes do the same. Thus, an underage student hoping to boost his cool factor by posting photos that show him engaging in drinking games could be disqualified for college admission or even have his scholarship revoked.

Privacy settings. According to projections by Consumer Reports, roughly 13 million Facebook users have never set, or didn’t know about, the site’s privacy tools, and 28 percent share all, or almost all, of their wall posts with more than just their friends. It pays to thoroughly read the privacy policies of all sites where you’ve registered, including social networks, your bank, retailers, blogs and news sites where you’ve made comments, etc.

Email is forever. Deleting an email from your computer doesn’t mean it no longer exists. Chances are your email provider – or employer, if sent from work – will retain a record for years to come. Plus, recipients won’t necessarily delete the email and may in fact forward it to others.

Haunting photos. Just like emails, photos posted online can live forever. That includes pictures of you that someone else posted and tagged with your name. My rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, don’t do it, say it or film it. Also, don’t post photos of your kids that might embarrass them or hurt their professional reputation down the road.

Resume lies. It can be tempting to embellish the truth on your resume or during a job interview, but as recent headlines about disgraced executives being fired have shown, these lies can come back to haunt you. Employers can easily determine if the degree or past job titles you’re claiming are legitimate. Another no-brainer: If your resume is posted online on or LinkedIn, make sure there aren’t major inconsistencies with the one you submit to prospective employers.

Tattoos. One-fifth of adults have at least one tattoo – the percentages are higher among younger adults. A few years ago, job candidates wouldn’t get past the first interview sporting tattoos; today, depending on the industry and type of customer contact involved, many employers will look the other way.

However, some employers do enforce strict no-tattoo policies which, if based on sound business reasons, are legal. Fortunately, my own kids aren’t old enough for body art to be a consideration, but when they are, I’ll give them the same advice I’d give any young adult: Think about the long-term consequences of your actions.

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