Law Students Say Message Board Postings Are Costing Them Job Offers

from the if-it's-online-it-must-be-true dept

As people increasingly live and document their lives online, stories about potential employers doing web searches on job candidates and turning up information candidates would rather not have them see — information that often costs them a shot at the job — are becoming more common. The Washington Post has a front-page story on this topic today, focusing on some law-school students who aren’t having a lot of luck finding jobs, and blaming it on message board postings. What makes this story a little bit different is that the students didn’t make the postings themselves, they’re just the subject of certain threads and messages — some which could possibly be viewed as defamatory, while others are simply unbecoming (such as a discussion of a female student’s breasts). The employers weren’t finding the students’ MySpace pages or blogs, or other sites documenting their personal lives, but rather their inadvertent digital resumés were being created by other people. The article seems to put the blame on the owner of a particular site that’s popular among law students, but that’s misplaced — perhaps the more questionable activity is on the part of employers who are using this information. If they’re going to search the web, they need to have the understanding that people can’t control what other people say or post about them (similar to the idea of hearsay in a courtroom), and that not every mention that casts a student in a poor light is true, or an indication of their character. It’s also not entirely clear why potential employers should consider many of these comments relevant to their hiring decisions, though one person says law firms are afraid of candidates who could attract controversy. Of course, it’s also possible that comments a person labels as “defamatory” may be unflattering, but true. While site owners have no legal liability for what third parties post on their sites, thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, at least one company senses an opportunity here, and searches for potentially damaging content online and “destroy it on behalf of clients”, which we’ll assume to mean they drown site owners with cease and desist orders and threats of lawsuits akin to legal bullying. All in all, this sounds like quite a bit of overreaction — not just on the students’ parts, but from their potential employers, too.

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Comments on “Law Students Say Message Board Postings Are Costing Them Job Offers”

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thecaptain says:

common sense?

if they’re going to search the web, they need to have the understanding that people can’t control what other people say or post about them

C’mon, you’re expecting a lot here. Most HR types are completely clueless. These are the type of people who were posting Job Ads stating a 5 year experience requirement in Java back in 1996 (Java 1.0 came out in 1995).

RJD says:

Nope, makes sense

Checking a person’s background on line makes sense. And hopefully a perspective employer takes into account the source. However, where there’s smoke, there is often fire. It’s much like being judged by the company you keep. You may be a good person but if you’re hanging with the boys from the hood, you’re often a magnet for trouble.

Be nice if ‘kids’ would grow up and realize that what they do in life they will be accountable for. Including talking about teats.

Casper says:


So they are saying that someone commenting about them causes them to lose a job? I some how doubt this unless what is being discussed is of significance. If a third party makes a comment on a forum about someone, I seriously doubt that it would be taken very seriously by a possible employer. Of course, what I think is probably more likely, is that many of them are finding out that posts they made can come back to haunt them.

If an employer takes that much solace in what a random 3rd party says then you don’t want to work for them anyway. If something you post on a forum comes back to bite you in the ass, it’s your own fault. Take responsibility and move on.

Sniperdoc (profile) says:

Re: What?

Actually, it’s really quite amazing. My gf used to be a HR recruiter for a large firm, and they dig pretty dang deep sometimes when it comes to some of the larger corporations out there.

As far as the statement:
“If an employer takes that much solace in what a random 3rd party says then you don’t want to work for them anyway.”

I would say that I would WANT to work for that employer, because they want to make sure that their people are top notch.

As far as “Take responsibility and move on”, yep… that’s exactly the attitude they should have. It comes down to integrity in the end, if you’ve lead a life that wasn’t too “quiet”, then be prepared for those waves that you’ve made to come back and resonate off of you.

Karma is a biotch!

Beefcake says:

Re: Re: What?

Sure, you should be responsible for the company you keep. Should you also be responsible for the other students admitted to a school or a class? Or if someone sees you on the street? We don’t know who posted or what was posted about the boobs. Because boobs are out there for all to see, it could just as easily be some guy in the back of a class whom she’s never met and thinks she’s hot as someone she keeps company with.

Additionally, someone being “top notch” has nothing to do with the results of a Google search. An idiot can just as easily have a clean ‘net profile as a top notch person. That’s why there are things like resumes and interviews.

Having said all that, yeah– if these students are that brilliant, I doubt a shady ‘net profile with questionable sources is the only reason they were passed over. If it is, I agree– you’re better off without them. Places with top-notch people find them by talking with them.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Re: What?

I would say that I would WANT to work for that employer, because they want to make sure that their people are top notch.

Um, sure. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink. Because you can tell so much about an employee from messages left about them during their college days. Besides, who is to say that the person being discussed is the same person who is applying for the job?

TheDock22 says:


This is actually really funny IMHO. I never really thought about job employers turning away candidates for comments they find posted on message boards.

It is kind of sad really, I mean what you do with the Internet at home should never be considered by employers as anything against your character. That would be like refusing to give a job to a candidate who sings show tunes in the shower, simply because you don’t like show tunes they sing.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

Re: Funny

Quote: “I mean what you do with the Internet at home should never be considered by employers ” End Quote

Never is a word I seldom use.

Perhaps you mean to restrict this to LEGAL activities. As far as the employers go, if the comments are in any way relevant to the job or the persons’s character, it would be appropriate to include them in the total view of a candidate. Got to weight them according to the veracity of the source though.

If somebody made fun of anyone based on the size or shape of a body part — that is not relevant (for lawyers, anyway) and should never be included in an HR record.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Funny

That’s true, i guess I should have said legal activities. Obviously if someone if involved in illegal activities, there is no way I would hire them.

Now, I don’t particularly agree with judging someone based on their online posts. Well all know that the life span of a website could be a few days or until the end of time. If you posted something about your political views 5-10 years ago, should you really be judged for that today?

Hopefully employers take these things into consideration.

Casper says:

Re: Funny

Not really. Singing in the shower is very different then how your represent yourself and communicate with others. Peoples posts online give a glimpse into their personality, life style, and political standing. Companies want someone that will be a good fit, they don’t want to waist money hiring and training someone only to have them leave for personal reasons or to have to fire them due to misconduct. They judge you, as well they should. They are making a big investment in hiring someone, and if they don’t like the presence you have or how you might represent them in your time off, they do not have to hire you.

Everything you do in life reflects on every part of your life. Parents may tell their children that it’s ok to make mistakes, which is true, but they don’t tell them that they will have to live with them for the rest of their lives. We have a serious problem with taking responsibility in society today.

MikeT (user link) says:

Re: Re: Funny

What does your political stance have to do with most employers? The only question they should have is whether or not you are the type of person to not get along with others. A recruiter that allows their politics, barring them being politics explicitly based on conflict like Communism or National Socialism, to be a determining factor in the decision to employ a candidate should be fired. And fired with extreme prejudice. An employer that allows its recruiters to create arbitrary hiring criteria, based inherently on personal preferences, is run by fools.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re: Funny

I agree to an extent (large coorperations), but for smaller companies, having everyone on the same page can really help things run smootly.

The politics was an example, but there is nothing in the law preventing companies from choosing another candidate due to your political views. Only gender, race and religion can not count against you.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re: Funny

It shouldn’t, but it does. A great example would be media positions. Most of the major players in the media are largely liberal… do you think wearing an NRA shirt around as a reporter would be a good idea? How about being a tree hugger and working for a lumber company? You won’t get fired for it, but you won’t make friends either.

In the end nothing about life is fair. People need to figure this out. It may not be fair that your political views impact your career, after all, they don’t change how you perform in your job (usually), but they do effect the way you are viewed. After all, what you know doesn’t matter nearly as much as who you know.

PhysicsGuy says:

such is the beauty of a moniker. while i find it rather absurd that employees are hiring people based off of someone else’s comments, i take great solace in the fact that when my real name is googled it returns results from a couple 5k races i’ve ran in and lists me as a student at the martial arts dojo i attended. anyone backing up what the prospective employers are doing: give me your name and where you work. when your boss receives a call that their employee was accused of skimping out on paying their prostitute, as was posted to a message board, you’ll be rethinking your position on employers basing their decisions on forum posts.

Edward says:

Yeah, it's long.

This is just one of hundreds of issues today that make me fucking sick. I hate the world we live in for stupidity like this. People are fucking idiots. Do you have any idea how qualified some of the people getting turned down because of this bullshit are? People today say ‘law students’ like they’re apprentice construction workers. Do you have any idea what kind of horror a law student has to go through? I am currently a business student at the Smith school of Business at the University of Maryland, not a law student (law is so much more in depth and mentally trying), and after all the shit I have to deal with, when the time comes for me to get my first job, to start making the money I deserve to be making after all the unfathomable amounts of insanely hard work I put in over years and years of school, if I was rejected based on some internet search, I would lose my fucking mind. I would beat the living shit out of that (spell with me, now, RJD) PROspective employer, and if I as a human being could do no more, I’d probably want to kill myself knowing that my job opportunities for life were partially destroyed because some asshole wrote “I loved that fat blunt we smoked last weekend” on some message board. And that’s illegal! These law students are getting turned down because of things like “man, I thought you were gonna puke for sure after that 10th shot” being posted under pictures of them out with their friends, legally drinking, at a legal venue. What, now that there exists physical evidence of specific good times, those involved are blacklisted like fucking felons?? Before this intense background checking bullshit was ever implemented, I guarantee there were many, many high-ranking executives who were the absolute best at what they did, who, on their free time, did things so remarkably deviant, or even criminal, had it been known, they would be arrested. Did they bring said activities to the workplace? No! Nobody knows if the generation hired before this mockery of a background checking method was first used smokes weed, hires hookers, is a contract killer on the weekends…because it’s fucking irrelevant. I understand wanting the best possible employees in all areas for a job opening in your company, but mark my words, the next time some overqualified law student gets turned away from a job because his asshole potential employer saw the word “boobs” in his Facebook profile, I hope to God that law student was the prophetic key to saving the company he was rejected by from bankruptcy, that the potential employer loses everything he owns as a result, the student gets employed by a lesser firm where the douche bag who rejected him then tries to get a job, enabling that law student, now an employed lawyer, to do his own “background check” on the asshole, and not give the sniveling little prick a chance in hell to get a job. Fuck this, man. Fuck everything and everybody that is ruining the fucking world. People are fucking idiots.

Casper says:

Re: Yeah, it's long.

It’s not intended to be easy. You talk about this as if it is in some way unfair that school is difficult and jobs should be handed to them. Do you really think that it is that much more difficult to study law then say chemical or electrical engineering? Your coming from the point of view of a business student, which isn’t exactly on the same page as a lawyer, surgeon, or biochemist. I bet you have never worked a real job, have you?

An immature tirade such as your post is the exact reason employers want to look into their candidates. Your posting included unnecessary profanity, poor structure, and no valid point. When in that long mess of a paragraph did you explain why companies shouldn’t look at forum posts? You offered up the fact that a person who is a student of law, is in some way better then a construction worker. So, because someone chose to go to work rather then school, the person who chose school is better? I hate to tell you but a lot of contractors and machine operators make six figures and many are way far more intelligent then you my friend. I am a software developer, does that mean I should look down on someone who chose to go to work in another field that pays less? Does less pay mean they have not or do not work as hard?

Please think before you speak, even rants should have a point.

Edward says:

Re: Re: Yeah, it's long.

You gotta be kidding me, man. First of all don’t try to establish credibility by pointing out what you call flaws in my post. Obviously I took into account the fact that I was cursing up a storm and did so purposefully. Secondly, who the (watch out, I’m going to use profanity) fuck are you to call me out on something as meaningless in a web post as structure? But then again, you did insert that line-skip between your paragraphs, so maybe I’ll take something positive away from this after all. Thirdly stop posting just to discredit people who have already posted. You took from my post that I think “a person who is a student of law, is in some way better than a construction worker”. Well, if you weren’t already trying to be so condescending, you might have interpreted that I merely believe that law students have to commit much more time and effort to a job they want but do not yet have, than do aspiring construction workers. However, in light of your intent to defame my post, I can see you had no intention on discerning any meaning other than me thinking highly of myself and lawyers, and lowly of people who go straight into the workforce. If I were to take your unnecessary, overcritical approach to responding to a post, I’d explain that by the methods of Standard United States English, the comma you placed after the word law in the sentence I quoted you in is incorrect. Oh, right, you were also so busy taking note of how badly I fucked up my post that you seemed to have missed my point. Listen up, now: my point, Sir Genius, is that it sickens me that the world has become a place such that a hardworking, qualified law student is denied a job he would have undoubtedly if we (A) had some privacy or (B) went through this whole ordeal 10 years ago. So there ya go, skippy. I hope this wasn’t too offensive for your virgin ears.

Casper says:

Re: Re: Re: Yeah, it's long.

So the content of a public web space is now private? Since when did posting on a public forum constitute private conversation? At what point was it decided that past public conduct was not admissible in the decisions of a prospective employer? If you can not answer the basic questions with your argument, then perhaps you are wrong.

How does attending college constitute a larger investment of time or energy then someone working 60 hour weeks at a construction site? Is reading a book harder then manual labor for the equal amount of time? I’m sorry, but your point really is not valid. I work with computers, but I can still appreciate the hard work that people in other professions do. To say that a student deserves anything is absurd. You are going to school to benefit yourself.

As for the condescending tone of my post, how is my condescending tone directed at you any different then the condescending nature of your post directed at everyone who does not go to college? You act as though you are above reproach, however, what experience do you bring to the table in this discussion that would indicate an equal level of competency or knowledge? You do not approve of my condescending tone, yet your response is profanity? I have no problem with swearing, but unlike you, I have other tools at my disposal and I understand the implications of such actions. Currently I am gainfully employed, but if I were not and an employer were reading these posts, who do you think he would be more likely to contact for potential employment? Does your conduct reflect an intelligent and articulate individual or a temperamental child?

What all this boils down to is that you believe you (or law students) are working harder then everyone else and deserve to be treated better. The reality is that I do in fact believe I have a better grasp of reality and the business world then yourself, and that I do doubt your credibility to comment on the inequalities of life. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but that does not make them right. You may not agree with me, but you also have not even slightly provided a case for your arguments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah, it's long.

Hey edward have some faith. Things are changing, and mores are in flux. For every asshat that wont hire you, theres a social peer of yours that will. And if its not that way, it will be eventually. I thrill when I hear about this being a big problem–it means that eventually there will be whole generations of people in charge who understand that since backstage conduct is now publically visible, it needs to be politely ignored by civil society.

The people who poke around like this are basically voyeurs. Just because they can, doesnt mean they should. Who lays out the rules on what should and shouldnt be done? I have no idea, but you and I know where that line is. We were raised in the time that built that line, and we feel it in our bones just as surely as the asshats dont.

Work hard, do your part, and have faith. Itll work out.

Not and idiot and wouldn't hire you says:

Re: Yeah, it's long.

It’s a good thing a prospective employer isn’t doing a Google search on you! If I were checking references on you and saw this flaming post, I would be sure to take you off of my list of potential hires. You see, the way you present yourself on the web just might be the way you present yourself at work, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to hire someone with your attitude…Be careful what YOU post, it might come back to haunt you some day!

Iron Chef says:

Social Network Paradigm

This is just another case of how business doesn’t understand how to harness the power of the internet.

The paradigm of power within the corporate world is changing rapidly. And Social Networking is contributing to lower costs.

Smart businesses are going to find ways to increase productivity and quality of work using these new collaboration tools available now.

Take Goldcorp for example. A $500,000 iinvestment in Social Networking grossed grew his company from $100M to $10 Billion

Jim Jones says:


How frikken stupid are these lawyers to be anyways. the net should be anon…. if it requires a “real name” MAKE IT UP!! duh. I realised this during the age of BBSs and MUDs. you are leaving behind real records of your activities. ( I still have fido-mail archives)
The only thing that ever gets my real name is a resume or job-search engine and the email account reserved for the responses. everything else gets an alter-ego, complete with an address, and a birthdate.
As you can see most of us have screen names, we do it for a reason. so our current employers, future employers, friends, enemies, gov spooks and whoever else out there who may be watching/ spidering (google etc) does not easily link it back to us. Think of it as a virtual condom between you and the stupids. screw em all and keep the possibility of burning to a minimum.

Daniel Jimenez (user link) says:

Read more before commenting

Anyone who wants to take a “tsk, tsk, you should know better than to post pics/personal info on the Internet” attitude (including Carlo) should read the first-person account of one of the women targeted by AutoAdmin.

The site owners are not nearly as innocent in all this as they would have you believe, and the women targeted are not nearly as naive as some of you seem to think, either.

thecaptain says:

I would say that I would WANT to work for that employer, because they want to make sure that their people are top notch.

I sincerely doubt that this kind of HR cluelessness would get many “top notch” employees for you to work with, if they cannot realize how easy it is to fill a thread with unwarranted flames on the net.

I can SOMEWHAT see an interviewer or a firm turning down a prospective employee based on their online behavior/opinions, if they can reasonably make the assumption that the behavior/opinions they observe are actually legitimate (whether it is is another argument altogether) but there’s really no defense for doing so based on whatever some net troll posts ABOUT an employee for which he/she has absolutely no control.

whats wrong with boobs? says:

I find it hard to believe that a company wouldn’t hire a woman because she had nice boobs. Seems to me that is a good thing. Course, maybe the comments were about how they were small or maybe they were sagging or something, then I could see her point.

Just goes to show, without knowing all the facts, you really can’t make a decision.

jjz says:


considering that we are about to nominate the wife of a man who commited perjury while in the office of the President of the United States, I tend to think these various statements flying around the intertube carry much less weight than is being considered here. were in a cycle of extreme centralization right now- there will be a backlash.

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realize that thousands of people all over the world are joining the
internet and reading these articles everyday?, JUST LIKE YOU are
now!! So, can you afford $6.00 and see if it really works?? I think
so… People have said, “what if the plan is played out and no
one sends you the money? So what! What are the chances of that
happening when there are tons of new honest users and new honest
people who are joining the internet and newsgroups everyday and are
willing to give it a try? Estimates are at 20,000 to 50,000 new
users, every day, with thousands of those joining the actual
internet. Remember, play FAIRLY and HONESTLY and this will really work

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