Though it can feel like your social media life is disconnected from your offline life, the way you represent yourself online has real-world ramifications. It’s not just that Grandma is now your Facebook friend and can see all those spring break photos you were tagged in: If you are on the job market, potential employers could also see your political rants, daily breakfast selfies, and Game of Thrones meme marathons.
Don’t wait for an employer to come across your stories about your “crazy boss” and drop you from consideration like a hot potato. Today’s savvy job candidates are turning their social media channels from a liability into one of their biggest professional assets.
Hiring and training a new employee is expensive and time-consuming, so employers want to ensure they do their due diligence before investing in a new member of the team. This used to mean putting job candidates through multiple interviews, performing a background check, and calling references. These days, a growing number of employers are also checking the social media channels of their top job candidates.
According to the latest employer survey by CareerBuilder, 60 percent of employers admit to researching job candidates on social networking sites, and 59 percent of hiring managers say they use search engines to look up candidates. Your social media accounts will be under scrutiny when you hit the job market and, according to the survey, the top industries for social media snooping are:
- IT: 76 percent of employers admit to looking at the social media profiles of job candidates
- Sales: 65 percent
- Financial Services: 61 percent
- Healthcare: 59 percent
- Retail: 59 percent
- Manufacturing: 56 percent
- Professional and Business Services: 55 percent
With so many recruiters and hiring managers scouring your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, what exactly are they looking for anyway?
You may assume that potential employers are reading through years of your Facebook life to search for reasons to not hire you, but that isn’t the full story: Employers want to know if you will be a valuable addition to their organization. “Tools such as Facebook and Twitter enable employers to get a glimpse of who candidates are outside the confines of a resume or cover letter,” says Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer of CareerBuilder.
According to the CareerBuilder survey, 32 percent of employers who checked a potential employee’s social networks found information that caused them to hire a candidate. Of course, you aren’t wrong to think that employers are also looking for red flags. The survey also found that 49 percent of hiring managers admit that they found things when searching a job candidate’s social networks that caused them not to hire that person.
Don’t let this information intimidate you. Instead, use it to your advantage and give them zero reasons not to hire you and endless reasons to invite you on board. Here’s what you can do to make sure you aren’t one of those candidates who gets sabotaged by their own social media persona.
Does the thought of a hiring manager scouring your Facebook timeline make you want to delete every social media profile you’ve ever had?
Don’t immediately go for the nuclear option. Instead, decide which social media accounts you want to keep public and which you want to make private. Every social media channel allows you to set your account as private so that an outsider can’t see your posts, but don’t assume this is the default setting. Facebook, for example, makes all the pictures you are tagged in public unless you change this setting. Additionally, in many cases an employer can see that you have an account—even if it’s private—unless you specifically set it as hidden.
Pro Tip: Lisa Green of College Recruiter reminds you not to forget about your old accounts. Remember your ancient MySpace page filled with links to your fan fiction? That’s still around. Either delete the account or make it private.
Extra Pro Tip: It is illegal for employers to ask you for your social media passwords or to compel you to connect with them on social media. Don’t let anyone pressure you into giving them access to the parts of your life that you want to keep private.
Your first instinct might be to keep employers out of your personal business by making all of your social networking accounts private, but then you could be burning potentially useful bridges. In an article on the topic of recruiting on Facebook, we found that 70 percent of recruiters believe that they connect better with job candidates through Facebook. Additionally, according to the CareerBuilder study, 41 percent of employers said they were less likely to interview job candidates if they weren’t able to find them on social media.
Rather than hiding your social media persona under the bed, take this opportunity to show recruiters and employers an awesome job candidate they won’t be able to ignore.
Once you’ve decided which social media profiles you want to keep public, it’s time to do a major scrub of those profiles. Sorry, but those drinking photos need go, along with your passionate essays on hot political topics and the announcement that your virulent toe fungus has finally cleared up. The writers at College Xpress suggest that as you review your profiles, act as if the recruiters are already reading all of your posts. What kinds of things are most likely to raise red flags? The CareerBuilder survey found that among the 49 percent of hiring managers who discovered something on social media that made them not hire a candidate, the top reasons were:
- Provocative or inappropriate photographs
- Information about drinking or drug use
- Discriminatory comments
- Bad-mouthing a previous employer or co-worker
- Bad communication skills
Pro Tip: When you’re done scrubbing, do a Google search of your name to see if you missed anything. Many employers hire specialized companies to perform deep background checks. You can bet these companies won’t just stop on the first page of Google results for your name.
Scrubbing away the more “controversial” aspects of your public social media profiles is a good start, but if those efforts leave your Twitter and Facebook feeds completely blank, you aren’t going to impress a potential employer. The second part of the equation is to present yourself as someone your dream employer would be thrilled to hire.
College Xpress suggests creating social media profiles specifically geared for public consumption. Start with LinkedIn, one of the best tools on the internet for job seekers. LinkedIn allows you to post your resume, join industry groups, and make useful connections with hiring managers and leaders in your chosen field.
What can you do to make these public profiles stand out? According to CareerBuilder, recruiters who use social media to research candidates are looking for positive traits, such as:
Proof of job qualifications
Make sure your LinkedIn account includes information about past jobs, internships and volunteer work, relevant awards, and your degrees. If you are working on relevant projects, post about them.
A professional image
Start with a quality headshot. (Your Harry Potter Halloween costume was brilliant, but this isn’t the time to make it your profile pic.)
Express your personality in a positive way, and show off your creativity. Post thoughtful comments and interesting articles related to your industry. Be funny and smart without being offensive. You already know what your best self sounds like—project that person through social media.
The job market is competitive, especially for entry-level jobs. That means you have to stand out in a good way. Don’t hold back on showing off your mad rock climbing skills or your love of pan flute music. Recruiters want to hire a real person, so give them someone to remember.
Great communication skills
You don’t have to be Shakespeare, but clear and compelling posts will help you stand out. So will terrible spelling and grammar, but not in the positive way you want.
Pro Tip: Connect! Social media is a two-way street. If job recruiters are looking at you, make sure you look at them, too. Don’t be shy about sending out invitations to connect with the hiring managers at the companies you want to work for, or with leaders in the industry. Sharing and commenting on their posts will help you stand out when it comes time to start sending out your resume.
The easiest way to get tripped up by your social media life is to realize that you have to clean up your act after you’ve finished third-round interviews for your dream job. By then, it is probably too late.
It takes time to do a deep clean of your public social media accounts and to build polished, professional profiles. You won’t want to juggle these tasks in the middle of the interview process.
Instead, get started early. If you are a student, begin the process about a year before graduation. This will give you time to create a strong history of high quality posts on your chosen public profiles, like LinkedIn, and to connect and develop relationships within your field. Even just working an hour each week on your public social media channels will make a difference if you give yourself enough of a head start. You can bet other job candidates are doing the same thing. Don’t fall behind.
We live in the world of social sharing. Accept the fact that what you post online today could either help launch you onto a brilliant career path or keep you cemented to terra firma.
Rather than rail against the system, use it to your advantage. That starts by making a clear decision on which social media profiles you want to make private and public, and then cleaning up your public profiles to show off your best self. Start your efforts early, so that when the time comes to hit the job market, your social profiles will be a great career asset.