Should potential employers be checking the social media profiles of employees and job candidates? It’s up for debate.
But whether you agree with the practice or not, it’s become commonplace in the job market. If you are applying for any type of position, chances are your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts may come under close scrutiny.
That’s why potential job candidates need to prune their social media, just like they would with a resume or portfolio. Here’s what to look for so you can put your best foot forward.
What employers care about
Companies may steer away from hiring someone who frequently posts about partying, sexual exploits, or any kind of illegal activity. Depending on what kind of career you’re interested in, political posts may also be considered too controversial.
“On the one hand, employers are more aware of issues related to politics and inclusion, and are beginning to welcome advocacy, but on the other hand, the passion and language often attached to posts about values and politics may not always be expressed in the most professional of ways,” said Kathy Robinson, career coach and founder of career site TurningPoint.
A photo of you with an “I voted” sticker may be fine, but a post with expletives about a certain candidate will likely cross the line.
Why employers care about your social media
First impressions matter, and what you post on social media reveals a lot about your personality very quickly. If you frequently post inappropriate photos or explicit memes, it could seem that you’re not ready to enter the real world. If you brag about showing up to work hungover, you might come across as too unreliable to hire.
How employees behave is a reflection on the company. The content of an employee’s social media can be used by competitors, the media, or others to disparage the organization.
Employers also want to hire a candidate with good decision-making skills. If you post about texting while driving or other forms of impulsive behavior, it could indicate that you’re a liability. If you show a tendency to overspend or take on unnecessary debt, it could make you less of a desirable candidate for any position related to company finances.
How to clean up your social media
Making your social media profiles workplace-appropriate is a multi-step process. Here’s how to get started.
Change your profile picture
Even if your social media profiles are private, employers will still be able to see your profile picture. You should change the picture to something recent with you in a business casual outfit.
“Although not all employers will care, some will react with trepidation to any photos that contain non-professional themes,” Robinson said.
Use a free service like PhotoFeeler to make sure your photo conveys the right qualities. This is a site where users can rate your photo on how competent, likable, and influential you seem.
Don’t have any professional headshots? Ask a friend to take a picture of you with their phone. You can edit it for free with Pixlr or Adobe Lightroom. Try to avoid using any obvious filters.
Clean up past posts
If you have an account you still want to keep public, clean it up with a service like TweetDelete for Twitter or Social Book Post Manager for Facebook. These websites can delete posts from a specific time frame or ones that contain certain words.
For example, if you want to delete any evidence of your partying days, you could search for posts with the words “alcohol,” “drunk” or “wasted.”
Search for yourself on Google
Your future employer is likely to look you up on Google to see what comes up. Try this yourself and notice what’s on the first couple pages of results. If there’s anything incriminating, you should be able to explain it during a potential job interview.
Change your privacy settings
Go to your social media profiles and change all the settings to private. Some, like Instagram, have only one setting: public or private. On the other hand, Facebook has several different options to choose from.
If you post in a public group on Facebook or on someone else’s wall, your post may be public even if your account is otherwise private. If you want to test the privacy settings, create a new profile and use it to check on your original account. Pretend that you’re snooping and try to find anything problematic.
You could also deactivate your social profiles temporarily while you’re looking for a job, reactivating them only once you’re hired. This nuclear approach may seem extreme, but it’s an easy way to ensure that nothing you’ve posted will get you in trouble.
Show positive things
Keep positive posts public to all, including photos of you volunteering, graduating from college, or exploring Paris. If you spearheaded a fundraising campaign for a cancer organization, that will show that you’re a charitable person with leadership qualities. If you were a successful athlete in college, it will show that you’re highly motivated and know how to work hard.
Stand out by creating a robust LinkedIn Profile
Having a robust LinkedIn profile can help you stand out as a job candidate. You can connect with professionals in the industry, and when you apply for a job, the hiring manager may see that you have connections in common. This can increase the odds of getting a job interview and being hired.
When you create your profile, add your current and past jobs, internships, and club activities. Put your degree and expected graduation date. Ask for recommendations from past employers or professors. If they’re not able to write a full recommendation, ask them to endorse you for specific skills like copywriting or Adobe Photoshop.
You should also join groups in your niche on LinkedIn. These can be great places to hear of potential job opportunities. If you’re a civil engineering major, for instance, find civil engineering groups.
Start responding to people’s posts and comments on LinkedIn, as engaging with others proves that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about the field. LinkedIn is also a good place to apply for jobs and post about what you’re looking for.
Put your best foot forward
Job hunting is hard enough. Make sure your social media is working in your favor by pruning out the potential red flags and adding some positive signals about your employability in the public places where you interact.
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