Looking for a Job? Double-Check Your Social Media Accounts First

Image credit: Ibrahim.ID / CC BY-SA 4.0

By: Marie Donlon

Maybe your Facebook page is chock-full of images from college: There you are, cradling two beers protectively like a proud parent, your eyes are bloodshot; your mouth hangs open in dull confusion. Or, maybe your Facebook account is simply a digital cat calendar featuring cat after endless cat.

Social media has become a significant part of our daily lives. The need to share everything has suddenly become overwhelming. We take pictures of our meals, our trips (even uneventful trips to the store are documented), our friends, our family members, our latest craft projects. The list goes on.

While this need to share everything on social media spans all populations, it is particularly characteristic of Millennials who have grown up in an age where social media has played an almost constant role. However, this virtual connectedness can have its pitfalls, particularly for those freshly entering the job market.

Everything that has been posted on social media can be accessed by potential future employers. And, according to all of the available research, employers are paying attention.

According to a study appearing in Business News Daily, nearly 60 percent of employers will research a candidate’s social media pages before making a hiring decision (this is up from 52 percent last year and up from 11 percent in 2006).

What are employers looking for?

Twenty-one percent of employers admit to looking for “dirt” on their candidates. That “dirt” might take the form of provocative pictures, hate speech, drug and alcohol usage, badmouthing former employers/coworkers, politics, guns, and poor communication skills.  

For instance, let’s use Candy the post grad as an example. Fresh out of college, Candy has dreams of securing a position with a Fortune 500 company. But, uh-oh, Candy can’t seem to hit delete on her Facebook posts from college. Employer X, taking a stroll down Candy’s virtual memory lane, finds a Facebook page riddled with pictures of undergrad Candy doing keg stands at a frat house.

Unfortunately for those job seekers with inappropriate content on their social media pages, nearly one third (30%) of the employers who admitted to searching the social media sites of potential hires, also admitted to making hiring decisions based on what was found on those sites.

Fifty-three percent of employers admit to researching potential hires’ social media sites to get a sense of whether or not the candidate conducts himself or herself professionally. Professionalism can be measured in the tone of the candidate’s posts and in the candidate’s use of proper grammar. Are all of his or her posts spelled correctly? According to a social media study on careercast.com, 66 percent of employers respond negatively to poor spelling and grammar.

A potential hire might have a social media presence that is controversy-free with benign posts about how much they love their cat. However, if the content is spelled incorrectly or the wrong words are used, an employer might move on to the next candidate.

Sixty percent of employers admit to looking at social media pages to discover additional qualifications that the candidate might possess.

Let’s revisit Candy the post grad. While Candy posted picture after picture of her keg stands at the frat house, her social media is completely void of any mention of the volunteer work she did as an undergrad. When Candy wasn’t doing keg stands, she was volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. And that volunteer work might have been relevant to the position she was applying for, but Candy never posted those pictures.

So what do you do?

While you might not have a lot in the way of controversial content on your site, you might want to look at your information with the critical eye of a potential employer. The obvious solution would seem to be deleting your account (at least while you are in job-search mode). However, that could work against you just as much as a drunken shot of you singing karaoke can. If you have a non-existent (or private) online presence, that may work against you come hiring time with 40 percent of employers admitting to being less likely to interview a candidate that doesn’t have an online presence (or a limited one).

Likewise, a completely sanitized social media presence may also work against you. In addition to the “dirt,” employers use social media to get to know the candidate. This is particularly true for hiring teams driven by company culture and looking at more than just job experience. Social media should reflect who you are in terms of hobbies, personality, etc. Hiring decisions can be made based on something that resonated with an employer. So be yourself; or, at least, be a better behaved version of yourself!

Other helpful hints

The first step you should take before commencing a job search is conducting a Google search of images you might appear in. Although you may have set your Facebook page to private, that doesn’t mean all of your pictures are private. Pictures from outdated MySpace pages might appear on a simple Google image search of your name, along with pictures of you that someone else might have posted (we all have that one friend who chooses to post every picture, despite our pleas.). Hopefully, the only images that show up are of a few cats and not those pictures from your college roommate’s bachelorette party.

After you have done a thorough image review, reevaluate all of your existing Facebook posts, Instagram shots, Tweets, etc. Make sure to double-check your spelling and grammar. Is everything spelled properly? Have you used proper grammar and avoided using texting language in your posts?

Another consideration that doesn’t seem so obvious in this laid-back and relaxed new world of sharing: Make sure to credit any work that isn’t yours.  If you post a picture, give credit to the original artist; if you post a quote from another author on your social media page, credit that author. Plagiarism is considered by some employers to be a bigger concern than complaining about an employer.

Other considerations: If your current work has any kind of customer-facing requirements, do not bash those customers on social media no matter how terrible their conduct toward you. In recent years, employees have been taken to task over making customer complaints online or photographing and then posting tips or other information about the customers.

Instead, use your social media to talk up your achievements, your successes, and your qualifications. Use it as a platform; as a virtual resume.

A message for current employees

Think you are ok now that you got that dream job and you can reactivate your salacious Facebook account because you are now safe from the prying eyes of your employer? Not so, according to a careerbuilder.com survey.  More than 30 percent of the employers surveyed admit to the continued monitoring of current employees’ social media sites. (Twenty-five percent of those employers admitted to using some of the information obtained from social media to either reprimand or punish a current employee.)

Just because you got the job doesn’t make you immune from the future social media investigations of your employer.

So congratulations on getting the job! However, try to fight the urge to share your celebration with the world. Or at the very least, resist the temptation to document it with pictures of an inebriated celebration.