Let’s cover the basics first. Does it REALLY matter? A Careerbuilder.com survey shows that 43% of employers who check social media (which, let’s face it, EVERYONE checks social media these days) chose not to hire candidates based on things they found online. This statistic means that almost HALF of employers these days are essentially using social media as part of the interview process. They can get to know you, your strengths, weaknesses, friends, interests, (and sometimes even dirty laundry) on their own time. I think it’s safe to say, your online image is important.
But what are they looking for exactly? What is it that pushes an otherwise qualified candidate into the “unhirable” category? It really depends on the company. If you’re applying at a casual restaurant in the city, they may not blink an eye at pictures of you out at restaurants or other nightlife settings socializing (this is NOT to say that certain things just shouldn’t be posted at all; i.e. champagne facials, anything even remotely drug related). However, the same restaurant may be appalled to find tweets of you bashing your last boss, employees, or colleagues. On the other hand, office-based jobs may wish for you to refrain from posting pictures in potentially compromising settings at all. Maybe you weren’t downing shots in your profile picture, but forgetting to crop your friend out of the background as she double fists vodka cranberries suggests that as soon as the camera is set down, you have every intention of doing the same.
It’s usually at this point in The Great Social Media Debate that people take one side or the other. Half of you may be thinking, “I get it. Don’t post incriminating things online, obviously. Are we done?” The other half tends to take the “It’s MY profile, and I can say or do whatever I want, is this even legal?” stance.
For those of you that already know the importance of managing your online persona the right way, bravo! Just remember, your social media isn’t just something you have to hide and privatize and sweep under the rug. If used correctly, it’s your best tool. Here are a few tips for you professionals that want to make the most of your online image:
1. Pick and choose which social media sites to make private, and which to keep public. Yes, public. Despite swirling rumors that suggest we should all be unsearchable and nonexistent online, this can actually hurt you just as much as having a negative image. We’re human, we’re meant to interact. Imagine you’re trying to decide whether or not to loan someone money. Are you going to choose the individual with a horrible credit score or the one with no established credit at all? Correct answer: neither. You have the money, and you can wait for a good, credible individual to come along. The employers have the jobs, and they are fully capable of hiring a candidate that knows how to use their social media in their favor. So why not be that person? Linkedin is usually the safest one to keep completely public, as it is a professional networking tool (and if you’re not on LinkedIn yet stop reading, go make one immediately, and resume when finished). The rest are up to you; can you use your twitter only professionally? How about Facebook or Instagram? Whichever ones you can, do so, and keep them public. If there are some that are personal and used recreationally, make those ones completely private.
2. Even if you don’t post the bad stuff, someone else will. Do yourself a favor and Google your own name. As silly as this sounds, you’ll be able to see what any employer would while doing the same. I once worked for a company in which the employer specifically asked me to check each candidate’s Facebook before he called them back for an interview. Do not feel weird asking people to untag you from those pictures at the club from five years ago. You might even come across an old Myspace account you forgot existed from back when you were, ahem, less careful about your online image.
3. Even some “harmless” opinions have a better home than your Facebook status. Politics and controversial news may seem like a safe route to go, but what if your boss has the polar opposite view of the situation? We all know how awkward it can be having a conversation with someone who just does NOT see your side. Don’t make the mistake of putting your boss and coworkers in this boat by forcing them to view your opinion online. If you’d like to express your views, try to keep it positive. Instead of “Democrats are idiots” try “The Republican candidate made some excellent points this election.” Lastly, avoid arguing your points online AT ALL COSTS. Nothing looks worse than the person who can’t control themselves when they’re not even face to face. How would they handle themselves during challenges at work? Most employers aren’t going to want to find out.
If you’re a naysayer, determined to prove that social media is your platform to express yourself freely, stay tuned for “What Happens in Vegas, Part II.”