The notification comes through on your smartphone, letting you know that a friend has posted a new picture of you. You laugh when you see the shot of you and your best friend, sharing a Scorpion bowl at the Chinese restaurant the night before. As you scroll through the pictures, though, you start to get a little embarrassed. Did you really do THAT up on the bar? And where, exactly, is your top?
If you’re looking for a job, these types of photos – and others – can actually hurt your chances of landing a gig. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to check candidates’ social media profiles before they make an offer, meaning that the silly pictures from your last birthday party or the guys’ weekend away could come back to haunt you as well as hurt your chances at landing that dream job.
How Employers Use Facebook
In the old days, you sent in your resume or application, sat through an interview and provided a list of references to land a job. Employers generally only knew what you – or your references and former employers – told them. It was relatively easy to control the message.
These days, though, employers have far more tools at their disposable, and a quick Google search can often tell them more than they ever wanted to know about a potential candidate. Since Facebook and Twitter generally appear high on the list of search results, they are usually the first places employers look for information about you.
The good news? You can protect some of your personal details by using the highest level of privacy settings on your pages. If you set your page to be viewed by friends only, only those people that you are connected with can see your info. However, you need to check your settings, and not assume that they are secure. Depending on your settings, even if an employer can’t access your full profile and Facebook wall, they can still see photos, and information about you – such as your 31 consecutive check-ins at the local bar. Even if you’ve earned an advanced credential like fraud investigator certification, any indication that you could have trouble making it to work on time or cause problems in the office could give an employer pause.
What Gives Employers Pause
According to surveys, the number one thing on Facebook that can take a candidate out of the running for a job is inappropriate photos on a personal page. A single picture where you’re holding a glass of wine or champagne at an event such as a wedding or networking event is probably not going to cause any trouble; a series of photos from multiple parties or where you are clearly intoxicated might.
It’s not just photos that cause problems, though. What you say on social media can also hurt you. Clearly derogatory comments about your current employer or school could lead an employer to question your discretion; negative comments about your upcoming job interview will most likely come up in the meeting. Announcing that you’ve gotten the job without authorization could lead to the offer being rescinded and announcing your job search while you’re still employed is also bad form.
Cleaning Up Your Act
Unfortunately, while you might think that your social media is personal and private, but it’s clearly not. Your best policy is to stay positive, polite and professional. Remove any inappropriate or incriminating photos – un-tag yourself from those that friends add to your wall – and be careful what you say in your news feed or on Twitter. That’s not saying you can’t post an occasional rant or complaint, but keep them focused on your friends and family or the guy who cut you off on the freeway – not your employer. Avoid profanity, mentions of drug or alcohol use or other potentially offensive topics, and ask your friends to do the same on your wall.
If you’re considering an employer, avoid posting information or judgmental questions about them on social media sites, as most companies have staff monitoring those sites and will make note of your words. And never, ever, send a tweet or post on Facebook when you’re actually in the interview. The interviewer will notice and you will likely not get the job.
Social media has added a whole new dimension to the job search process, but used properly it can be a valuable tool. Understand how your information is used – and take steps to protect your reputation. Your career might be depending on it.
About the Author: Social media expert Dora Smith works in the HR department for a large hospital. She knows all too well what goes into choosing potential job applicants. Dora is currently working towards her gerontology certificate online.