In case you didn't know by now, here's a sobering stat for you: over 90% of employers recruit using social networks. It's also legal in many states for employers to ask for your social media passwords, though legislation has passed or is pending in other states prohibiting this practice. Many students I speak to feel strongly that this is an invasion of privacy; however, it has been happening all over the country for many years now. And regardless of whether you're asked to provide passwords, it's still easy to trace your online activity—your whole life—with a pretty simple Google search. Makes you think twice before posting that, ummm, questionable college video, huh?
Why does an employer want to search your social media world? What on Earth could they learn about you by seeing the intimate details of what you’re doing in college or over the summer? Why do they care about the people you call your “friends” online? Well, a company wants to get a glimpse of your character and interests beyond what you may tell them on a résumé. And, of course, they want to maintain their reputation as a company, hiring people that will represent them well. They also see you as an investment—between the costs of hiring, training, insuring, and, you know, paying you, you’re actually a pretty big investment—and they want to make sure it’s a sound one. So, keeping all of those things in mind, if you were a hiring manager, would you take a chance on someone who could be found online posting angry rants and flipping off cameras? Probably not.
You need to cultivate an appropriate online presence. And that doesn’t mean using aliases to circumvent this issue and avoid prying eyes, either. You want employers to be able to find you online—you in all your impressive, hirable glory. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you're avoiding these three social media pitfalls and follow the subsequent advice to boost your chances of getting hired.
Problem: You have shady "friends"
Solution: take a good look at your friends’ profiles. If anyone looks especially out of control, unfriend them. If they are important to you, connect in person instead. If they get mad, tell them you want to get—and keep—a great job, and their photos or posts are associated with your character as well. Harsh, perhaps, but these are the facts. There are companies where your social network is not so important, but until you do your research on your potential employers’ social media policies, it’s best to play it safe.
Problem: You have a lackluster or nonexistant online presence
Solution: share as much “good stuff” as possible. Do you volunteer? Post pictures of you with your team at the event. Are you conducting any research or involved in any unique projects? Figure out where your work might be featured online and link to it. If you are a writer, start blogging about your experiences as well. Online résumés on personal websites are a great avenue for this, but it helps to get as much exposure elsewhere as possible. Post on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Google scrapes all of these words with your name attached to them, and when employers search for your name, they’ll get a great glimpse of what’s important to you and what you’re contributing to the world. Finally, this may go without saying, but make sure you have a LinkedIn account from the start!
Problem: Your Mike Tyson–esque face tattoo is the first thing people see
Solution: just take a moment before you post pictures of tattoos and piercings. Whether it’s yours or someone else’s, these are always popular photos to share on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. But, unfortunately, what was cool on your college campus may not be at your potential job. Again, it’s important to survey the climate at the company (or companies) you want to work for. There are even companies in Portland, Oregon—self-proclaimed tattoo and piercing capital of the world—that have policies about sharing these things with the public, depending on who their client base is.
Here is a sample statement from the Oregon Humane Society about tattoos and piercings from the volunteer section of their website:
I understand that each volunteer is a representative of OHS in the eyes of the public and will refrain from exhibiting visible tattoos any larger than 2 x 2 inches, and those that are visible must be non-offensive. For safety purposes, I will refrain from wearing or will cover visible body piercing(s), excluding traditional ear piercing.
Before posting pics, look for yourself to see if other people associated with the company are posting shots of their tattoos and piercings online. You may also be able to find the policy online or speak to an HR director.
It would be a shame for people to judge you based on you choice of self-expression, but it does happen, and it's better to ask so you are not surprised. (And heaven help you if you’re going after a writing job and your employers discover something like this.)
So go be your own social media director, let employers get to know who you are, how you express yourself online, and get your dream job!