Twentysomething: Raunchy old photos will be part of the revolution

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By Ryan Healy – During my senior year at Penn State, the Nittany Lions knocked off the highly (over) rated Ohio State Buckeyes. It was one of the best football games of my college years. A mob of students rushed down the bleachers, the field became a flood of blue and white.

But unfortunately, rushing the field is not a Big Ten-acceptable activity. So the other guys in blue, the police, started an investigation using Facebook to identify suspects.

I guess if you’re going to perform illegal acts, Facebook, MySpace and other online networks that incorporate photographs are probably not for you. But as we leave our crazy college years behind and enter the workforce, should we really have to worry what recruiters think of our social lives?

I have a MySpace page and a Facebook profile. I have hundreds of pictures on each site that show me in both professional and not-so-professional settings. I could remove their embarrassing or “incriminating” pictures to save some face in the real world. Or I could replace them with photos from an old photo restoration service. I have never considered either option.

Social networking sites are blurring the lines between personal and professional life. There is no reason these lines should not be blurred. Most young people lead very healthy social lives, and because of these websites much of our social lives are online. When you live your personal/social life online there is no escaping who you are and what you do. It may be scary to people not accustomed to the openness of the Internet, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a refreshing. Why should I pretend to be one person for eight hours a day and someone else entirely for the rest?

It’s absurd to pretend that everyone at work is a saint. It’s just not true. What’s the big deal if our bosses know what we did on Saturday night or what we did in college for that matter?

The whole idea of our lives being available for public display is actually pretty cool. Think about it. If the world already knows what we do in our spare time and we are all able to be completely open about our interests, thoughts and ideas without fear of retribution or not being hired then we can bring our whole being to work everyday.

Of course, if you’re idea of a good time is extremely sick and twisted then you may want to consider keeping things a secret. Better yet, you may want to figure out some better things to do in your spare time to avoid a prison sentence. But for most of us who like to have a little innocent fun, there is no reason to play the Jekyll-and-Hyde role.

Jason Warner, head of staffing at Google writes, “Today there is a fuzzy, but growing distinction that companies will continue to draw between candidate professional experiences, competencies, and capabilities and their private lives and outside behaviors. It’s a line we don’t likely want to cross, because if we cross it for candidates, we may cross it for employees, and that compounds the problem.”

The more young people enter the workforce the less risk there is that someone will Google them to look for bad behavior. Human resources leaders don’t have the time to sleuth. But also, there just aren’t enough perfect little angels in the world to go around.

I urge everyone: Let’s leave all of our pictures up on whatever social networking sites we use. What we do on the weekends is just as much apart of our lives as our day jobs. Don’t be afraid of your boss seeing a risque photo of you and don’t be afraid to talk a little business at the bar. The sooner we get past this personal and professional juggling act, the sooner we can see real change in the workplace.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

35 replies
  1. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    Ryan, I almost, kind of want to agree with you. I’m not GenY (I’m too old – 33, so that puts me in the forgotten GenX category), and I find it funny that GenY is running around shouting about how important and entitled they are.

    Leave the photos. If I find it off brand with my company, or if it makes me uncomfortable thinking about hiring someone that would embarrass my company publicly (maybe I can handle it if I hire a guy with lots of pictures drinking heavily while wearing women’s underwear – but will my customers be able to handle it? Will they feel they are “guilty by association” and not want that rubbing into their brand?) then I won’t hire you. I will laugh, think it’s funny, and move on to someone that will represent my company well.

    It’s not about trying to cleanse society, or make this a boring place where all of my employees are squeaky clean. If there is any chance that some irresponsible punk who only wants to party and feels that they are entitled to bare it all, with no regard to others, life, business, etc. can ruin years of what I’ve been developing — not just products and services but a strong brand – then I’m turned off.

    Do what you want on the weekends – post what you want on the Internet. But I have to protect my company, and if someone can’t have a mature enough perspective about life then they aren’t on my team. I can’t afford the mess.

    Seth Godin recently said, in a Dip Tour presentation, that if he had a chance to speak to a class of high-school kids, one of the messages he would tell them is “no one cares about you. Get over it.”

    Jason Alba
    CEO –
    because It’s about the relationships…


    Jason,While I agree with you that it would be irresponsible for you to hire “irresponsible punks who only want to party,” I think its safe to assume that even the most responsible hard workers have done their fair share of partying.  The difference today is that anything and everything can be captured and posted to the internet.  For me to have a squeeky clean public image, I would need to be overly aware of my every action.  It’s just not worth the trouble.  this post is not about my generations feelings of entitlement.  It is a post about the reality of being a young person growing up with new technologies that are redefining the meaning of privacy. 


    • shelley
      shelley says:

      i hate to contradict you,but i’m a genY ( i’m 23)and i for one don’t act like im entitled for anything!! in fact – and call me a prude- i don’t get this rauch culture at all we are supposed to be superior and yet with the rauch culture, killing, etc, we act no less better than the other species in the animal kingdom!!

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:


    I think it’s also important to distinguish between the “Woo! I have an awesome social life! Look at me at this Red Sox game with my buddies! And climbing a mountain!” pictures and the “OMG, I didn’t even realize my best friend took this and would actually post this online!” pictures. Yes, we have social lives, and yes we get a little crazy and have a lot of fun. But some pictures are just unflattering, and even a little…I don’t know, trashy? I don’t think that’s quite the word I’m looking for, but maybe you know what I mean.

    I think the ability to tag, and more importantly un-tag, photos on Facebook is great. Besides, why would you post a bad picture of yourself on your own site?

    I also think it’s important to explain to those just a few years younger than us (like my precious little siblings who are in high school) that it’s okay for ME to have pictures where I’m holding a beer and quite another thing for them to do the same.

    Basically, if everyone used some common sense in editting their personal image overall, I think it’s perfectly fine that employers can access our personal pages.

    Sidenote: I’ve had an internship where my “boss” was only 25 and after I’d been there for 3 months she asked if I had a myspace. You can have a page and still keep it personal by googling yourself and making sure that it doesn’t come up.


  3. Tae Hyuk
    Tae Hyuk says:


    this kind of question should be left to the reader’s best judgment. what ryan is suggesting is a “one-size-fits-all” solution: that it will work for everyone here and across all boards and industries.

    But this is assuming that all of our photos are within a certain range of acceptibility. that a picture of you at a bar with some friends is the same thing as another of you vomiting into a toilet or passed out on the toilet seat. or that employers will still hire you even after seeing that the only posts on your facebook wall start with the words, “Dude, let’s get smashed tonight, then go blaze up…”

    again, i’d advise readers to use their best judgment on this issue. Be smart, not idealistic. Not all employers will adopt your line of reasoning.

    Ask me how I know.

  4. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    “It is a post about the reality of being a young person growing up with new technologies that are redefining the meaning of privacy.”

    It sort of forces us to face up to the realization that a lot more of us have puked into a toilet drunk than would like to admit it. Enough that maybe it’s not really worth being shocked by or embarrassed about in the first place. A prospective employer might cluck and wag a finger at a picture of you getting hammered on your 21st birthday, but he might as well give it up when he sees the same thing for ALL of his new applicants. In fact, he’s probably done it himself.

  5. EngineerTiat
    EngineerTiat says:

    I agree with Ryan that the lines are blurring.

    It will be good that we can showcase our talents, our interest, our hobbies “off” work and really be ourselves. Gosh… it might even be work related.

    I think we really have to take charge of our lives and be not afraid that our bosses will find out that for example, our interest is starting/running an online business for some of us.

    Most importantly, if we have a full-time job, we need to fulfill our obligations to our employer, especially between those working hours!

    Warm regards



    Thanks for touching on the most important part of this post, the long overdue blending of work life and social life.  Many of us have both positive side projects and healthy social lives.  Not hiding these aspects of our lives will help everyone understand each other a little more.


  6. Pete Johnson, Nerd Guru
    Pete Johnson, Nerd Guru says:

    I’m not sure it’s as black and white as “leave them up or don’t” It depends on what it is. Storming the field after a college football game is quite a bit different than, say, appearing in amateur porn.

    There’s a line in there somewhere and it’s probably different for each employer. I guess I tend to think of it as, “What would I not care people know about me?” If it is something you aren’t ashamed of and someone won’t hire you because of it, it probably wasn’t that great a fit to begin with. I do agree that, over time, HR will care less and less about this sort of thing.




    Good point, the line should be drawn by each individual. I was not considering people openly bragging about their amateur porn careers when applying for a position. But like you say, if I am not ashamed of a few pictures and someone will not hire me because of it, then I do not want to work for that person.


  7. Tim
    Tim says:

    I don’t think this is an “HR” thing. I think
    taste and discretion are big deals for companies, hiring manager and

    Partying and carrying-on is one thing. Yes, most of us have done that.
    But advertising it to the world is another matter. It's not about
    pretending "to be one person for eight hours a day and someone
    else entirely for the rest." You don't bring your beer cans to work, do you?

    This isn't about "redefining the meaning of privacy." If you are advertising your private life for the world to see, it's no longer private. It's now public and you've created or altered your personal brand.

    Listen, go ahead, party, have fun. No one is saying not to. Just show some judgment.
    Yes, if I'm thinking of hiring someone, I want to know if they're smart and savvy enough to know they shouldn't post their indiscretions online for the whole world to see.

  8. Camille Solbrig
    Camille Solbrig says:

    From a baby boomer and a Penn Stater: Put as little info about yourself on the internet as possible. Employers should not know about your social life. The only reason that the younger generation wants to blend work and social life is because they don’t have enought time for a social life due to work commitments.

  9. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Like it or not, everyone is an “agent” for their organization…if I engage in some type of inappropriate behavior and someone notices it, and, and I happen to be that person’s only contact or (informal) “rep” of that organization, that person may make a judgment about the company based on their experience of me. (Read: Moments of Truth…forget the author in this moment.) Not sure as the owner, partner, CXO of a business that I want such “agents” representing me to the public. But, that’s just me.

  10. Alan
    Alan says:

    I would not post any pictures or information that would embarrass me because I think that is low class, BUT I do think that we should not be so judgmental of those who do. I’d be very careful in making large inferences about a person’s character because of some embarrassing photos. I totally agree with Ryan on this topic. There seems to be an expectation that at work we have to project some sort of a puritanical aura of ourselves and I find that very disturbing. As for myself, I do not judge a particular company based on the actions of it’s employees outside of business hours/functions, UNLESS they are wearing that organzation’s uniform or other identifying symbols that make it look like they are officially representing the co. If I overheard a conversation by someone next to me talking about their workday at Boeing, for example, and minutes later one of them streaks naked across a playground, I’m (and probably 99% of the people) are not going to say, “tsk, tsk, those Boeing employees…”. Now, if that person was wearing a Boeing T-shirt, then, yes, that is a bad reflection of the company.
    I think Ryan’s post speaks of a larger issue, that is, that people are spending too much time looking for dirt on people and trying to discredit them for no good reason. How sad. I think it’s time some people step off their high horse and stop being so overly judgmental of others.

    In response to the first post by Jason, unless someone is posting pictures of wild party scenes at the WORKPLACE, who cares?

    BTW- I’m 32, Gen X and have not been a huge fan of Ryan’s postings until recently.

  11. Laura
    Laura says:

    This post makes me uneasy, but I can’t really put my finger on why. I think that Ryan’s views are a little too idealistic. Not every picture, posting, etc, is appropriate to convey an image of yourself-other posters have mentioned that it’s a personal line to decide what is OK to post. You have to decide how much these work opportunities matter to you-because you can’t control people’s interpretations, even if your intentions are good.

  12. Jessi
    Jessi says:

    My Bottom line…I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t show my own mother.

    Public info is open to ridicule. People have individual perceptions of what is appropriate for the whole world to know and what isn’t….some want to tell less, some want to tell more. On sites like MySpace users have the option to set their profiles to private. That way you get to be YOU with your friends. It also, keeps those nosy copanies out of your profile.

  13. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    This is a great thread, and I have a lot of respect for Ryan’s blog and writing. I only share this as my views, not something that should be considered “TRUTH.”

    1. There is more to this than a drinking photo, or someone sitting on the pot with a weird smile. What about naked photos, provocative photos (someone else mentioned “soft porn”), fighting photos, etc? What about a photo of you and your buddies in strip joint, or with a stripper at a bachelorette party? Where exactly do you draw the line?

    2. Sometimes YOU don’t have control over what shows up. Someone else can post something of you, and that’s an entirely different story (possibly with the same affect, though).

    3. While you are entitled to party, have a life, etc., remember that the person hiring you may be more conservative than you are. I don’t know any stats but I’m guessing that HR and hiring managers are going to be older and not so keen to see YOU in pictures like I mention above.

    4. Ryan comments in my post “this post is not about my generations feelings of entitlement.” I think it’s all about the generational feeling of entitlement. I haven’t heard this from GenX, or the BabyBoomers, or anyone else, but it’s a huge topic for GenY.

    5. He also says “It is a post about the reality of being a young person growing up with new technologies that are redefining the meaning of privacy.” Actually, it’s about being responsible and respectful. Do you think that new technologies have made driving without a seatbelt more appropriate? Or running with scissors, or leaving the fridge open? There are possible consequences in each of these scenarios – and there are possible consequences in having controversial photos posted showing just how personal your private life is.

    Consider this, which drives to the “how much is too much” question:

    — Would you post pictures or video of very, very private stuff?

    — Would you post writings of fantasies or violence?

    Why or why not? It’s a part of you, right? Why would you not do it? There is a line somewhere that you are comfortable with somewhere… now consider that 40something hiring manager that has worked for 20 years working her way up the company – where is their line, and do they want to risk everything they have worked for on hiring someone with questionable judgment?

    You could be right, perhaps you are more right than I am. I think it’s very risky for your personal career though.

    Jason Alba
    CEO –
    Because relationships are so important for your career…

  14. Gen X Grrl
    Gen X Grrl says:

    I will post anonymously so that this can’t be Googled later.

    I am 43. I was online in 1994 – heck, I had a CompuServe account in 1988. In 1994, you could still ‘finger’ people and get their phone numbers and office hours. You would use your real name and not think twice about that dumb thing you posted on usenet. Who was reading? A bunch of geeks.
    But today, through the Wayback Machine, you can read the horrible writing I did 13 years ago. You can use Google Groups and read the incredibly idiotic flame war I got involved in in 1998, before I swore off doing so in public ever again. You can read the time I lost my temper when someone called me names they’d never use to my face.

    All of it with my real name, because that was a badge of honor. Only AOL’ers used ‘screen names,’ right?

    My point here is that it’s not a problem for Gen X’ers because not as many of us have our lives as fully digitized as Gen Y.

    My boyfriend, for example, is in law. And 13 years ago, he thought, “I don’t know that much about this yet, but I need to be careful about what I do and say WHEREVER I do it.” So he is not Google-able. He participated in the discussion, but always under aliases.

    I have another girlfriend my age who reads voraciously but will never, ever post.

    It is an issue for anyone who has an online life, no matter what age or generation they are from. I have a friend now who is trying to get his mom to stop getting into flame wars on a cruise ship message board. She didn’t use an alias, why would she…

  15. Peg-a-sis
    Peg-a-sis says:

    Very cute post, Ryan. Putting up any and all pictures in the spirit of “we’re going to reinvent how information is processed, dammit” is charming, and when you think about it a form of political activism.

    Here’s a little story for everyone. Back in the days of third-wave feminism and riot grrls, etc, my friends and I contributed to a journal of feminist erotic, ‘feminist’ as in not exploitative of women. But still pretty raunchy, thank you very much. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    But I used a pseudonym for all my writing. I didn’t want anyone to be able to connect that side of me to my professional side. I didn’t want creepy phone calls at 3am; the emails were bad enough, but at least they didn’t know where to find me.

    I overheard someone in the store say the other day “90% of people are pretty nice.” Whatever your percentage of nice to not nice, there are creeps out there. I’ve been stalked numerous times, assaulted (no damage), harrassed, etc. Do today’s young woman soak this up, or are they creeped out by it? Just wondering. There’s no way I’d upload any oversexualized pictures of myself. Or is traditional feminism dead dead dead?

  16. Liza
    Liza says:

    I think this is a much more nuanced issue than people would like to believe.

    With a few narrow, well-known exceptions (race, sex, religion etc), employers can decide they don’t want to hire you — or to have you continue working for them — for any reason at all. Tasteless pictures on the Internet will probably never be a protected class.

    On the flip side, if I google someone and can’t find them, I think “luddite” or maybe that they have something to hide — I don’t have a neutral or positive reaction.

    Personally, I think the best approach is to be mindful of how you appear online, and take steps to alter it if you don’t like it. Taking down pictures doesn’t always work in a world of flickr tags and copied images, but you can optimize your search engine results to make the top hits more professional.

    This is totally different from not “being yourself,” and it won’t protect you from an employer not hiring you because of who you are, but it makes it more likely that they will make their decisions on who you really are as a professional, not who you were as a younger drunken idiot.

    What do I mean? I’m an openly lesbian blogger and I’m out in the workplace — if you google me, it’s clear in 5 of the first 10 links. But two more are my book publisher’s bio of me and my LinkedIn profile, and none of the other 3 are unprofessional. And I wouldn’t be able to work for a company for whom that was an issue. Fortunately, for many companies, it isn’t.

  17. Rob McGovern
    Rob McGovern says:


    Congratulations on raising a contemporary business scruples issue. My two cents…we’re going to find a middle ground between individuals realizing that everything they say and do online is becoming part of one big public record, and companies realizing they truly don’t want to know everything. Where is the happy middle ground–only time will tell. Keep in mind that personal privacy on the Internet was THE hot topic in the late 90’s, and now 100 Million Myspace pages later we’re coming to know and love a less private world.

    What would I advise a young professional? Say less than more about those things that could turn-off a prospective employer. It’s okay to talk about your pet ferrets, although I’d probably not contribute photos of my fanny tattoos to the Internet’s permanent and public archive.

    Rob McGovern
    Founder and Former CEO,
    Author: Bring Your A-Game
    Founder and CEO:

  18. Matt M
    Matt M says:

    I appreciate that you bring up a topic that is becoming more and more important to people. I am a twenty something myself and have seen many other people’s myspace pages and personal websites but on almost every website I have seen I see items posted that I don’t think you want to have there if a hiring manager was looking. I agree that there is more blurring between work life and social life but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree with your choices of personal life. You seem to allude to pictures of drinking and pictures from when Penn State won the football game. Although rushing the field after the big game sounds harmless to me and probably to others, the recent spate of riots on or near campuses and students setting fires should probably be seen by everyone as unacceptable behavior under any circumstances so you be the judge. Regarding drinking pictures: I have seen hundreds of pages where people have pictures of them drinking with their friends which if you just have a few is probably not a big deal. Anyone would admit that they might have a few with friends while relaxing. However, I think that the pictures of a 6ft pyramid of empty beer cans or the door you broke while drunk or the bruise from when you fell down are probably going too far and will be seen poorly by a hiring manager. Also, some people don’t just have 10 or 15 pictures of them drinking they have more like dozens of pictures of them drinking and they don’t have any pictures of anything else. What do you think someone would think of your personal pursuits if they saw that?

    Imagine yourself in the position of a hiring manager, what if you have a candidate that is completely qualified to do a job and the interview went fine would you check their personal website?
    what if you checked it and it turns out that the person is a neo-nazi?
    or gets themself arrested at antiwar protests every weekend? I doubt that you would have the same image of that person as if you didn’t see their website.

    Also, an entirely true anecdote you may be interested in: My old company used to have company season tickets at the local professional baseball stadium and if none of the managers or clients wanted the tickets them would give them to staff. The seats are literally in the front row at the rail just beyond third base. One time a staff coworker went to the game and there was a disputed call. The next day the front page of a national newspaper had photograph of the play and clearly seen in the background is our worker with a beer in one hand, pointing a finger at the player and yelling. Very few people at work seemed to notice and he really wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary that a baseball fan would do and so nothing really ever happened at work after that about.

    Thanks for the good post though.


  19. Scott M
    Scott M says:

    I agree with Robert McGovern’s post. Eventually, we are going to reach a middle ground where companies don’t hold a persons MySpace page against them.

    But we aren’t there yet.

    Anyway, here’s what bugs me: People who make themselves different from everyone else, then are shocked that they are treated differently. And the online world makes it bot easier to show your differences and for people to see them.

    Hey, if you want to wear a tattoo, or dye your hair purple, or wear low-cut blouses, or post pictures of yourself mooning the camera, that’s fine. It’s your choice. There are lots of places where that is normal of even expected (I don’t care one way or the other).

    However, if it’s different than what everyone else is doing, you must expect that people WILL treat you differently because of it. You’ll be an outsider. If you are prepared for that, and can handle it (or even enjoy it), that’s great!

    But don’t complain that you aren’t accepted. Don’t whine that your straight-laced boss seems to treat you differently after he sees the online pictures of you at the strip club. Or that your very liberal coworkers don’t seem to include you in office discussions after reading your passionate post on an pro-choice webpage. Or that coworkers of the opposite genderin seem to leer at you (short of sexual harrasment) after they see a picture of you half-nude at Mardi Gras.

    The problem is that SOMETHING we do is considered different to SOME group of people in our lives. We ALL present different aspects of ourselves to different groups of people. We present one face our parents, another face to our friends, and a different face to our coworkers (and sometimes a completely different face when we are alone). At work, we keep things professional. We avoid topics that can be controversial, in order to keep our workplace relationships pleasant.

    But posting stuff online under your real name defeats all that. I don’t see much difference between telling a off-color joke on a web page (and signing it with your real name), and telling that same joke at work. If it’s there, someone will find it. And you can’t blame them for acting differently around you if they do.

    YOU have control. Exercise it or accept the consequences.

  20. Julie
    Julie says:

    I agree that this is a nuanced issue. Perhaps some people would rather live at home than work for someone who is ‘uptight’ enough to do a background check, and that might be acceptable when you are 22. However, that content is going to stay around forever, and living at home in your 30s because of some ‘art photos’ is a pathetic waste. Live your life. Be genuine in all that you do, but don’t expect the baby boomers out there to understand why you will still be a great employee despite the drunken debauchery that is evidenced all over your website (or Facebook page, etc). I am a Gen-Xer who covers her tattoos and takes out the facial piercings before an interview. When an employer knows me, then I put them in and haven’t had any problems. Providing too much information out there is just asking for discrimination. It being wrong won’t pay the rent.

  21. Benny
    Benny says:

    I’d like to live in Ryan’s ideal world, where people are not judged based on what they do when they’re not at work.

    But I’ve realized that the majority of people still don’t think that way. Children like to pretend that their parents don’t have sex and parents like to pretend that their children don’t have sex. Likewise, employers like to pretend that their employees don’t cut loose and do embarrassing things after work.

    One of my friends, in the early days of social networking, got fired from a teaching position because his employer saw a picture of him smoking pot at a party. Surely he was not the first teacher to ever smoke pot, and I’m sure his employer knew that. But the moment the employer could no longer pretend her employee wasn’t a stoner, she fired him.

    Now that I think about it, maybe Ryan’s world is NOT ideal. Maybe it’s good to be able to pretend our co-workers don’t have lives. It’s comforting. I can’t help but agree with the previous comment that “The only reason that the younger generation wants to blend work and social life is because they don’t have enought time for a social life due to work commitments.” That, if anything, is what needs to change. The more time you have to go home, take your work mask off, and rush the football field, the less it matters what your employer thinks of the “real you.”

  22. Terry
    Terry says:

    I’ve nothing to back it up, of course, but couldn’t having our social lives open be actually pretty old-hat? Before the internet and before wide-ranging travel, communities were generally close-knit (or so I hear) and everyone knew what everyone got up to… so your spare-time activities were just as much under scrutiny and judgement as today.

  23. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    I really like your approach. I would like to live in a world that I could be 100% honest about my thoughts and activities.
    Unfortunately, we do not live in wonderland, and this is quite naive.
    In the real world, when you are looking for a job and you have bills to pay, you just can’t afford to project the “weekend image”. Same reason why I don’t have that huge tattoo in my arm I would like to.
    Sorry… life out there is cruel, judgmental, full of hypocrisies and there is always somebody else ready to take your spot. If you want to be on the game, you have to be smart and protect yourself.

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