Emily Clow applied for a job with Kickass Masterminds, a company that used to say of itself, "Kickass Masterminds matches and manages Mastermind Groups for rebellious business owners." I say "used to" because it took down its LinkedIn page after Clow applied.

Why?

Because it tried to make her a bad example. Clow applied and followed Kickass Masterminds' Instagram account. Someone at Kickass decided to make an example out of Clow by sharing her pool picture along with commentary. It took that down too, but Clow got a screenshot, which she shared on Twitter:

Well, for a company that describes itself as being for "rebellious business owners," it certainly has that schoolmarm approach to Instagram. And, it turns out, the internet supported Clow.

This picture is inappropriate for a job application (unless it's for a modeling job or the like). But Clow didn't submit the photo. It was just part of her Instagram account.

Do you need squeaky clean social media?

If you have anything racist, sexist, or illegal to say or show, it's probably best to leave it off social media. Scratch that: It is best to leave it off social media. But, if you're over 21, it's OK to have a picture of yourself drinking a beer. If you're a human, it's OK to have a poolside picture of yourself, even if you're [wait while I clutch my pearls] wearing a swimming suit.

Wearing a swimming suit in a pool is appropriate behavior. Taking a picture of it is appropriate behavior. 

I'm not a huge fan of the share every intimate detail of your life on Instagram culture. And you should be aware that if you post selfies, people may view you as "less likable, less successful, more insecure, and less open to new experiences than those who typically share photos of themselves taken by other people."

In other words, filling your Instagram with selfies--even totally appropriate ones where you're covered from head to toe--can harm your job hunt. But it's not inappropriate.

Should hiring managers/recruiters look at candidates' social media?

As a general rule, no. It's too easy to learn things about candidates that you shouldn't base your decision on. Things like race, gender, and age are usually pretty apparent once you interview someone in person, but in the weeding-through-the-resume stage, you don't need to know any of that. You don't want to reject or accept candidates based on protected characteristics unconsciously.

Things like religion and disabilities are often not apparent in interviews. (Many disabilities protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act are not readily apparent.) They are often visible in social media feeds. Because you can't base your decisions around this information, you shouldn't even know it.

There are some jobs where social media is critical. And, perhaps, the marketing role Clow applied for is one of them. In that case, you're looking at social media to determine if the person is good at social media.

During a background check, it's OK to take a look at social media. This is after you've made a job offer, and it's no different from calling a former boss. But you're not looking to see if the person has selfies. You're looking to see if the person is horrible. This should be done by a third party--whoever does your background checks.

Companies, beware!

You don't have all the power in the hiring relationship anymore. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. For many companies, your candidates may have a stronger social media​ presence than you do. And even if not, all it takes is one tweet to go viral to embarrass the heck out of you.

Clow isn't the one who took down her social media accounts after this. So, think twice before you attempt to shame or embarrass a candidate--or anyone. In fact, why are you trying to shame and embarrass candidates at all? Just ignore candidates you don't think are professional. It's easier and nicer.

Published on: Oct 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.