Interviews and Social Media: The Importance of Managing Your Online Presence
You submit your resume. The employer likes what they see. What's next? A Google search. Whether you like it or not, employers are looking at social media. While employers cannot legally discriminate based on what they find, there is nothing stopping them from typing your name in the search bar. Let's make sure what they find out helps you secure that job.
What sites are you mentioned on? Do you give off a "responsible" vibe? Do you have any mutual connections with the employer on LinkedIn or Facebook? Are there any mugshots? ...hopefully not. Are you published in any articles?
It's amazing (and scary) what you can find out through a simple search. I've "investigated" 200+ job candidates for positions ranging from undergraduate internships to Ph.D.-level positions. I've found out all kinds of things- a candidate's favorite restaurant, reviews they left of items they liked or (strongly) disliked, wedding websites, videos of their toddlers on YouTube- you name it, I've found it. While these details are irrelevant to the job, sometimes the search results provide helpful information. I find articles they've been published in, presentations they've been part of at conferences, involvement in charities and community events, and the like. What I don't find is just as important as what I do find.
You may recognize the phrase “equal opportunity employer.” Most employers are held to a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, religion, race, and other factors. There are exceptions to this. One exception is religious organizations, where hiring someone of a different religion may be counteractive to their mission. But, in most cases, it is against the law for employers to make a decision on your employment based on any of these factors. For example, if your Facebook profile photo clearly shows your "baby bump," employers legally cannot discriminate against you just for being pregnant.
That being said, what employers see about you cannot be unseen. If you present yourself on social media in an unprofessional way, if there are pictures tagged of you that indicate reckless behavior, if your posts are overly opinionated, you are presenting yourself as a person that may not be desirable to work with regardless of your ability to perform that job. It is possible for you to be disqualified for a job based on your social media. According to Monster.com :
36% of companies have disqualified one or more candidates after viewing social media
If you think your social media is strictly personal, let this be your wake up call. Your reputation is on the line and it is your responsibility to maintain a reputation that’s worth hiring. You have several options:
Option 1: Keep your profiles completely public.
If you have a professional online presence, you have nothing to worry about. Keeping your profile public can even prove that you have nothing to hide. If your profiles aren't professional but you want to keep them public:
- "Untag" yourself from those college pictures that don’t represent who you are now.
- Delete controversial material.
- Make your profile picture something you would be proud for a future employer to see.
There is a Facebook feature that allows you to filter any pictures or statuses you’re tagged in before they appear on your profile. I highly recommend this! If someone tags you in an unflattering or unprofessional photo that you don’t want on your profile, Facebook won’t post it there without your permission (if you turn this feature on). While I don’t have anything to hide, I choose to do this so that if a friend gets “spammed” and tags me in a sunglasses ad, that doesn't show up on my profile. This is a fool-proof way to control what goes on your Facebook page.
Option 2: Keep your profiles private, only showing your profile picture publicly.
This option allows you to give off a good impression with a professional profile picture, without worrying about "cleaning up" the rest of your profile.
Option 3: Hide your profiles entirely.
I have friends that changed their name on Facebook to just their first name and middle name so they can't be easily searched. While this eliminates the ability for employers to make any judgments based on personal appearance, I wouldn’t recommend this. Employers assume that you have some form of social media and, if you hide your profile completely, they may suspect that you have something to hide. Basically, it’s just sketchy. So don’t do it!
Side Note: LinkedIn
While the options above apply well to Twitter / Facebook / Instagram, LinkedIn is a different story. LinkedIn is obviously a more professional platform. If you don’t have it, I would highly suggest that you get it. I dreaded LinkedIn at first. Another account to check? Another news feed to keep up with? No thanks. But, thanks to a mandatory assignment in college, I made an account. LinkedIn allows you to publicly connect with other professionals. And we all know the importance of having connections when you search for a job.
An article on PayScale.com estimates that 70-85 percent of people ended up in their current job due to networking. That’s HIGH. I’m not saying to go on LinkedIn and start “connecting” with a bunch of people you don’t know. But, search for people you met at high school, college, church, summer camp, or wherever else- and build that network as much as possible. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever benefit from that connection, your future employer may also happen to know some of those people and be comforted to see that they have mutual connections with you. So, if you don’t have a LinkedIn, get one, and once you have one, start building your network. Follow influential people and share articles every once in a while even if you don’t use the platform often. It looks good.
Regardless of what you post or don't post online, remember that you want to work for an employer that appreciates you for who you are. If social media can give employers a glimpse into your personality and your hobbies and what makes you who you are, and they want to hire you after seeing those things, that’s great. If they see those things and don't want to hire you, then that job probably wasn't going to be a good fit for you anyway. Win win. Let that be an encouragement for you!