will being on reality TV hurt my job prospects?

A reader writes:

Do you think that being on a reality TV show would adversely affect my ability to get a job? I am not currently slated to be on one, but if I were to do this, I wonder what the ramifications on my future job prospects might be. I’m talking about a Survivor-type show, nothing like sexy, island orgy stuff.

As a major fan of a slew of reality TV shows, especially bad ones, this question is like a Christmas present to me, so thank you.

Okay, so let’s look at best case and worst case scenarios.

Best case, you’re on a respectable show and conduct yourself in a respectable manner. You don’t freak out on other contestants, you don’t become known as the a-hole of the cast, and the show itself isn’t about drunken antics or sexcapades. In this scenario, nothing negative attaches to your reputation, but you acquire a persona that may or may not accurately reflect who you are. So prospective employers — at least those who may know you from the show — feel like they know things about you, and those things may not be (a) accurate, (b) relevant, or (c) any of their business. You come with baggage, which could be good or bad — maybe they like the idea of hiring the guy from that show and think it’s a cool novelty perk, or maybe they’d feel cheesy hiring that guy.

Worst case, you implode in some spectacular way, or are edited to appear like a jerk, or end up on a show that develops some notoriety. (For instance, did the “Jersey Shore” cast realize what they were getting into?) Then you’ve got all of the factors from the previous paragraph, but with a particularly negative spin on them.

You also have to remember about unintended consequences. The show could be totally respectable, your behavior could be impeccable, and you could still end up associated with something negative through something you didn’t anticipate — some unforeseen action of your castmates, or, hell, even just the fact that if any of us were filmed 24/7 we’d be highly likely to say or do something unfit for public consumption.

That said, I suspect there are always people who will hire someone specifically because they’ve been on TV. So it depends on who you want to work for.

And last, if you’re on a show designed to showcase your professional talent, like Top Chef, none of these rules apply.

If anyone wants to work other things I like into a question, you are pretty much guaranteed a fast reply.

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. jmkenrick*

    I've always wondered about this when I watch reality TV. There are certain shows which seem designed for cast the worst possible light on the people who sign up – but I imagine if you avoid those, you're probably pretty safe.

    The one thing that could be a problem would be if you went on a show designed to show your professional talent, but the job you were applying for was in a different field. Coming from Los Angeles, where employers are wary of hiring someone who's only available until their next audition, knowing a candidate had been a contestant on American Idol would be a major turnoff.

  2. Cassie*

    I know someone who was on a reality tv show (I believe it was Survivor) and is currently a manager of a dept in our company. The person was already working in the dept before being on Survivor, but said person was promoted to manager after returning to work (so I don't think it negatively affected the person's professional prospects).

    Of course, it might be different if you are dealing with a smaller or more conservative company. And definitely depends on how you behaved on the show – though sometimes, the editing can affect the way you and your actions appear on tv… so it is a gamble.

  3. Miss Malbec*

    i think it would be hard to work Elinor Dashwood into a job question. but if i think of one i will let you know.

  4. Chad*

    Whether you appear as a good or bad guy is completely up to the editors no matter how you behave. They even try to make people look bad on Biggest Loser, I mean come on. But hey, live a little, not every manager will watch the show you are on, it is a big world, and everyone is different. I like what jmkenrick said and would suggest that if they recognize you or if you put it on a
    resume then you would want to be very clear about your intentions for the future.

    Personally I want to be on The Worst Cooks in America, I am uniquely qualified because I managed to Malt-o-Meal. :-)

  5. Lils*

    I think there are certain shows that would actively do damage to your career. Unfair as it may be, I’m probably not going to hire you if I saw your house on Hoarders…

    On the other hand, I probably would hire some of the moms from Toddlers & Tiaras–management skills out the wazoo, despite having a cringe-worthy hobby.

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