Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in hiring for several organizations. While one position was of a higher level of experience, most have been the fresh-out-of-college type (internships and entry-level positions). In reflecting back to my first interviews out of college, I recognize how much more information managers now have at their disposal. Twenty years ago, my would-be bosses had one primary method of learning about me: whatever I told them. Sure, they’d ask for references, but for the most part, they really didn’t have access to what I said or did beyond what I directly shared with them.
Not so for this generation.
What’s truly private anymore?
Case in point is someone who recently took to Twitter to celebrate being awarded an internship at NASA, sharing the news with an F-bomb. Another Twitter user who was concerned the original poster could get in trouble for publicly associating NASA’s name with such a word then replied with this warning: “Language.” The original poster, not realizing who the reply had actually come from, decided to double-down with even more vulgar language. Ultimately, when NASA got wind of the kind of press being earned through the exchange, the internship was revoked.¹
There’s been a lot of debate about whether the internship should or should not have been revoked. Thankfully, that is not for me to decide. The reason I bring it up is that we all must consider the far-reaching impacts of our words, much more so than ever before. When I was growing up, I could drop as many F-bombs as I wanted within my circle of friends, without any significant risk of that getting back to my parents (or future employers!). Sure, I guess someone could have tried to secretly record me but the only devices one of my friends could have gotten their hands on back then would have been way too big to hide in a pocket.
Now, however, so much of what we say and do is made public for anyone—even a famous former NASA engineer and current space council adviser—to read, comment on, or even save and share after we’ve tried to delete it.
A journalist summed up his feeling about this sort of thing with a quote about dancing like nobody is watching but emailing like it might be read in court one day. Maybe we could build upon his sentimate with the following…
What’s the right response?
This leads me to make a few ideas…
- To the rising generation, the parent in me wants to say this: If you absolutely must post in ways that might be frowned upon by future employers, in-laws, colleagues, or even the kids you might have someday, at least set your social media accounts to private!
- But the hiring manager who wants to know whether you really are who you appear to be wants to say this: Air all that dirty laundry so I know who not to waste my time on!
No, seriously. As someone who typically hires people for positions related to marketing, I want to know how well you will be able to represent the organization. And if you’ve done a poor job of representing yourself, then that gives me a decent prediction. For example, there was this time I really loved a candidate’s resume and replied with a request for a phone interview… I offered three different time options, and this person selected the earliest: 9:00am. When the day and time arrived, I waited in the video conference call for several minutes. Worried there might be trouble with accessing the link, and giving the person the benefit of the doubt, I called the applicant directly.
After several rings, the person answered in a way that made it clear they had been sleeping, “Oh ***** ******, what time is it?” I admit I was shocked a job applicant would curse like that in a professional job interview, no matter how groggy they were. “Do you need to reschedule?” I asked. The response included more cursing and excuses. At that point, it was abundantly clear this person would not be able to verbally represent our organization in a professional manner, and the applicant was rejected. There are enough people out there who can speak intelligently, even (especially?) when faced with adversity, without cursing at me that I don’t need to waste my time on people who can’t.
I could list tons of examples of people who did not heed this advice and lost jobs… like this guy: “A prospective employee at the company I work for had just passed his interview, and was told that all he needs to do is pass a drug test and a physical and he would start on Monday. Someone found the new hire on Facebook and the guy had just posted 20 minutes after the interview, ‘S—! Anyone know how to pass a drug test in 24 hours?!’” Yikes. That guy just saved his new company a lot of time and money!
- Ultimately, the Christ-follower in me wants to say: Live with integrity.
A test of our integrity
While I find myself shaking my head in wonder at some of these situations, I also recognize the unique challenges of living with integrity in the age of the Internet.
I’ve heard the word integrity used to simply describe someone who was honest, but there’s more to it than that. The root of the word comes from “integer” in Latin, which (if you remember anything from math class) refers to a whole number. Following that logic, someone with integrity is a whole person, consistently the same. When one has integrity, she is not duplicitous… not a different person in public and in private.
If I’m pondering my integrity, I might ask myself: can my colleagues and friends anticipate how I might respond to a situation based on my previous words and actions, because I’m known to be consistent? Or do I behave differently behind closed doors or when seated at a keyboard? Being honest and blameless in both our public and private lives is hard. (Ask anyone who has had long-term houseguests about how hard it is! So hard!)
Living with integrity is not just a nice-to-have personality trait, it’s a requirement for anyone seeking to live like Jesus. As Chuck Colson once said, “We must be the same person in private and in public. Only the Christian worldview gives us the basis for this kind of integrity.” He’s right. And now, perhaps more than before, Scripture’s repeated guidance on this topic seems particularly relevant, including these:
- If you do the right thing, honesty will be your guide. But if you are crooked, you will be trapped by your own dishonesty. (Proverbs 11:3, CEV)
- People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall. (Proverbs 10:9, NLT)
- Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8, NIV)
- Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, Here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. (1 Peter 3:10-11 MSG)
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22 NLT)
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! (James 1:22 MSG)
(1) I intentionally left the genders out of my description of the events because I am of the opinion they do not matter. Some people are trying to say the fact the original poster was a woman and the commenter was a man constitutes some sort of offense against women. I completely disagree. She shouldn’t have used her new employer, NASA, and f*** in the same sentence publicly, end of story.