Without a doubt, we are living in a digital age. And in many ways, your technological prowess can make you a real asset to employers. But just because you know how to use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram doesn’t mean you know how to use them well.
Social media is more prevalent than ever before; but with that comes the need to use these platforms responsibly. Regardless of industry, recruiters and employers take social media usage seriously. So if you’re found guilty of certain social media "crimes", you may have a lot of trouble finding and keeping a job.
Think Twice Before Hitting Post
This isn’t a case of being overly cautious for no reason. The reality is that you can be fired for inappropriate social media posts. Astoundingly, HubShout’s 2016 Social Media Conduct Survey found that 41.2% of Americans said that being fired over a social media post was an infringement of their First Amendment rights, while 30.4% said they weren’t sure whether that cause for dismissal was an infringement. That means 71.6% of Americans don’t fully comprehend the gravity of spouting off on social media. The right to free speech only guarantees that you can express yourself without fear of governmental interference or constraint. In other words, you typically can’t be arrested and prosecuted for what you say. But you can be disciplined in the private sector, which means that your employer can absolutely fire you for an offensive Facebook status or even a retweet that doesn’t reflect company values.
This kind of thing actually happens all the time to people who mistake their Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for their personal journal. And many people would agree that it’s actually a good thing that employers are starting to crack down on reprehensible social media activities conducted by their workers. But making poor choices on social media won’t just get you fired from your current job: it could render you completely unhirable, too.
Here's Who is Looking at Your Social Profiles
According to the 2015 Recruiter Nation Survey conducted by Jobvite, 92% of recruiters said they used social media to help them find high-quality job candidates. What’s more, nearly 70% of recruiters said they rejected candidates based on the content displayed on their social media profiles.
It’s not just recruiters, either. Many times, the employers themselves will check out a potential hire on social media -- and they may not like what they see. A 2016 survey conducted by Career Builder found that 49% of hiring managers who screen their candidates via social media networks said they came across information that made them pass on a new hire. According to that survey, the top five social media content crimes included provocative or inappropriate photos/video/information; content pertaining to the candidate’s drinking or drug activities; discriminatory comments made by the candidate in regards to race, religion, gender, etc.; content involving bad-mouthing of a former employer or coworker; and overall, poor communication skills.
Some candidates might think this social media emphasis is unfair, but the truth is that your work life and personal life might not be as separate as you’d think. Social media activities can give potential employers far greater insight into a candidate’s character -- for better or for worse.
Chief Human Resources Officer of Career Builder, Rosemary Haefner notes, “In this new, post-recession economy there is no longer such a thing as passive candidates. Everyone is a candidate all the time. The challenge is how to reach top talent, and social media is a great way to do that – meet people where they’re already spending a lot of their time. Similarly, with all the social tools available, it’s easier to find out who a candidate really is behind the resume and cover letter and lessen the risk of hiring the wrong candidate.”
The bottom line is that every business wants to avoid making a poor hiring decision (which could ultimately cost them tens of thousands of dollars). They’re not doing this to dig up dirt on you; they simply want to make sure that you’re a well-rounded candidate and a good fit for their organization. By sifting through your social media, these employers are in a better position to protect themselves.
Are Your Profiles Employer-Friendly?
The key to responsible social media use is to keep your private life private -- and that means keeping it off of social media entirely. Even if you think your profile is protected, that doesn’t mean you can post anything your little heart desires. Someone on your follower list could easily repost something you’ve created without your consent. Keep in mind that just because you’re Facebook friends, doesn’t mean everyone on your contact list has your back. You should check your follower list frequently, be discerning about who you accept into your social media circle, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t be fine with everyone in your life seeing.
Think you’ve got nothing to hide? Google yourself to make sure. Type your name into the search engine and see what comes up. That way, you’ll see what employers see when they look for you. If you find posts or images that don’t paint you at your best, take the time to change them (though you should keep in mind that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever). At the very least, you can make it so that this content won’t really be accessible to anyone but you.
While it’s okay to have a private Instagram or Twitter account, you should make sure employers can find you on Facebook and LinkedIn. No matter what, all of your profiles should be professional and feature nothing inflammatory. It can be difficult to steer clear of political postings during this juncture, but make sure that what you post is in no way offensive. As a rule of thumb, tweeting or posting a status or photo that could be hurtful to someone you care about could be hurtful to your job search, too.
Clean Up Your Social Accounts
If you realize your posts might offend a potential employer, your first instinct might be to just delete your accounts and go completely off-the-grid. But that’s actually a mistake, too. That careerbuilder.com survey found that 41% of employers say they’re less likely to bring a candidate in for an interview if they can’t find information about them online! That means that your social media accounts are an important part of your personal brand, whether you like it or not. You should think of these accounts as an extension of your resume and use them to further express why you’d be a good fit for a given position.
Rather than deleting your accounts entirely, you just need to follow some social media ground rules. Below are a few tips for determining whether a post could be considered inappropriate and what you should do if you come across these posts on your own profiles.
- Look at your tagged photos and untag yourself in anything you would not want your current or future employer to see
- Sift through past posts on all of your networking profiles and delete any that might compromise your job-seeking efforts or current employment situation (including but not limited to: drinking and/or drug activities; cultural insensitivity; offensive sentiments pertaining to sexuality, gender, race, religion, or politics)
- Check privacy settings on Facebook posts and albums; make sure to view your profile as an employer might and clean up anything you wouldn’t want them to see
- Turn on the Facebook Timeline Review function -- this gives you the ability to review and approve posts before they go live on your timeline
- View your tweets, retweets, and favorited tweets for any content you wouldn’t want an employer to see (you can also add a “Retweets ≠ Endorsements” disclaimer to your profile to be safe)
- Consider making separate professional profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook for this purpose, especially if you’re determined to hold on to older accounts (which you can then make completely private and weed out your friends/follower list)
- Watch your comments on all social media platforms -- even if these opinions aren’t right on your own page, employers can still find them!
- Always practice proper grammar, spelling, and stellar communication skills in all posts (it really does matter)
- Be enthusiastic about what you do and steer clear of posting complaints or expressions of laziness
- If you need a fresh set of eyes, ask a friend to look at your accounts and point out anything they feel might be too controversial
- When in doubt, err on the side of caution and choose not to share -- sometimes, your sentiments may be better expressed in person to someone you trust, rather than in the digital abyss
These days, you can truly never be too careful when using social media. Although many of us access these accounts on a daily basis, you should always remember that someone might be watching. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; it simply means you need to exercise caution and don’t treat these networks like your personal sounding board. As long as you consider these platforms to be a way to connect with friends and family and as an extension of your professional life, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Still, it never hurts to double-check.
About the Author: Sammi Cohen is a premium writer for HubShout. In addition to running her own vintage style blog, she regularly performs in musical productions throughout the Rochester, NY area. Sammi holds a BA in Theatre and Speech from Wagner College.