Help! My boss found me on TikTok.

·7 min read
someones eye peeking through ripped orange wallpaper with notifications on it
someones eye peeking through ripped orange wallpaper with notifications on it

Heidi Deger first went viral about a year ago. “Here’s me roasting you based on what item you carried around in public as a child,” she says in the TikTok, which now counts 1.2 million likes. “Blanky kids” are terrified of everything and independent to a fault, Deger continues. She counts herself among the overly affectionate and chatty stuffed animal kids. Followers flooded in as the video views kept rising. The 23-year-old James Madison University grad remembers a rush of excitement watching the numbers go up, but she didn’t expect one of her new online fans to be her boss.

An authority figure peeking into your online life — be it a parent, teacher, or recruiter — is a tale as old as social media itself. Phoebe Gavin, executive director of talent and development at Vox and career coach, traces it back to the days of MySpace. “That’s when this became something that professionals needed to think about. And it's only become increasingly an issue with the proliferation of social media platforms,” she tells Chegg Life. The main thing that has changed, Gavin says, is the frequency with which bosses check in on how employees are presenting themselves online. “Employers have realized that it’s a window into applicants and employees, additional information on who they are.”

In Deger’s case, her boss actually found the TikTok funny. “She asked about my handle, which is like ‘stupid bitch dot org,’ and then chuckled a little,” Deger says. Deger, who’s been working at Starbucks as a barista while she saves up money and strategizes for her next career step,  reasoned that her videos don’t break any Starbucks rules, so they shouldn’t be a problem. “It’s common sense. I’m not sharing all the recipes or marketing things that haven’t been released. I’m not posting anything racist or sexist or homophobic,” she says. “I’m just having fun on the internet.”

Deger experienced the best possible scenario for this phenomenon, but others haven't been so lucky. Apple recently threatened to fire an employee for revealing what it deemed sensitive company information in a TikTok.

A quick Twitter search of the words “boss found my tiktok” yields a near-endless scroll of people with similar stories. Some were humiliated.

Others shared more positive experiences.

What to do before your boss finds your TikTok

There’s no way to know how your boss will react to your unboxing hauls or GRWMs. But you can still prepare for the scenario without compromising your authenticity online.

Be intentional and ask yourself some questions

Social media is so ingrained in our culture that it’s easy to forget that we can make active choices in how to approach it. Courtney Brand, founder and CEO of the career help network The Lighthouse, laid out a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want my online profiles to be public or on private mode? (It’s worth noting that “private” is never really private on the internet.)

  • Do I want to allow colleagues to follow me?

  • Who do I want people to see when they search my name?

  • What kind of content am I putting out there?

Pro tip: You can change your answer at different stages in your career. Maybe you want to be digitally invisible at the beginning of your job application process, for example. Alternatively, perhaps you’re really good at reviewing restaurants on TikTok or growing and engaging your follower base, and you want potential employers to see that.

“Make the decision intentionally because employers will probably be looking,” Brand says. “Make sure you’re ultimately shaping the narrative that you want to tell.” It’s crucial to make sure your past self is in line with your current narrative as well. Brand recommends revisiting older content and deleting things that no longer represent who you are — or what you want to tell the world about yourself — today.

Look out for your future self

When it comes to your TikTok and social media in general, what’s acceptable, celebrated or looked down upon varies by profession. “If you're on TikTok and you're talking about these amazing edibles that you found, that's not going to matter if you are working at in nonprofit organization promoting cannabis equity. But it might really, really matter if you are working at a hospital,” Gavin says. She suggests considering the kinds of people who make decisions in your workplace — be it customers, donors, owners or investors.

Would any of those stakeholders be upset or disturbed to discover that one of their employees is engaging in that particular behavior? “If the answer is possibly a yes, then that's probably not behavior you should put online,” Gavin says. “And that's not to say that you shouldn't do these things, whatever things that you have in mind, it just means don't put it online.

"You can have an incredibly fun, incredibly valuable, incredibly fulfilling, vibrant life. It just doesn't have to go on TikTok.”

TikTok’s algorithm incentivizes constant content. It’s easy to think about these short-form videos as imperfect sketches. But when considering your future self and future employers, they’re more like permanent artifacts. Gavin tells clients and employees that what they post now should take into account where they want to be professionally in 10 years.

Some jokes are best told in a group chat with your friends. “The most important thing is for you to be proactive about this, not reactive,” she says. “Be thoughtful about how you're presenting yourself because everything you put on the internet is permanent, even if it disappears, and everything you put on the internet can be seen by everyone, even if it is private.”

Know your company’s rules

Lawyer and career strategist Avery Blank advises asking your boss about your company’s social media policy before sharing your life on TikTok. “You want to ask questions. Don’t get defensive or make assumptions,” she says. Listen to what your boss has to say, and ask what the expectations are when it comes to employees’ social media profiles. Another trick is to observe how your boss uses social media, and in the future, ask yourself before tapping that Share button, “What if my boss saw this?”

Blank and Gavin agree that there’s a spectrum for what’s considered “acceptable” online behavior and how a given company would handle something it deems “unacceptable.” A TikTok where you’re enjoying a glass of wine with dinner probably won’t bother your boss, but a public video of you wasted and taking body shots might raise some questions with upper management, Gavin explains. Some companies might fire you for doing a keg stand on TikTok, some bosses will just bring it up in your one-on-one; others won’t even bat an eye. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, which is why it’s important to be thoughtful and get all the information ahead of time.

As Deger begins to look for jobs in line with her science degree, she doesn’t see her TikTok as an obstacle. “It’s what I do in my free time, and it’s not harming anyone,” Deger says. “Plus, if a company doesn’t enjoy my personality, I probably won't enjoy working for them.”

Still, she admits her mom has expressed concern.

Move forward

The past is behind you, and you can’t change what you posted or who saw it. But you can prevent future damage. Shame has no utility here, so take that embarrassment and turn it into wisdom. Acknowledge the cringe TikTok or the awkward tweet — to yourself and even in a conversation with your boss. Take it all as an opportunity to learn from your missteps and own up to your mistakes; you’ll feel better about yourself once you can let it go, and your boss will respect your self-awareness.

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