The Professional Hazards of Social Media

Years ago, when it came to applying for a job, one would submit his or her application and resume, along with references. Thjackfb2e usual process would be an interview, followed by reference checks, and then hopefully, a job offer. Today, that same process is typically the norm, but there is a new added twist: social media.

What you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets may seem private because you have marked your post as “Friends only” (if you have privacy settings set, that is!), but in this century, technological advances – and social media “investigators” – make it possible for a potential employer to find those posts you thought were “private.”

In a recent Forbes.com article by Peggy Drexler, “Don’t Let Social Media Be A Road To Career Trouble” (http://tinyurl.com/qjvkzc8), Drexler points out that “social media has provided a platform for just about anyone looking for one to project a certain image of themselves. It has made us, in many ways, more accessible to one another, and also more accountable. But social media can be a road to career trouble.”

Drexler points out that while Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like can be an excellent way for those searching for work to market themselves, social media can also be a way for employers to screen out employees. That is, while you are busy crafting your personal image, potential employers are busy using it to predict how you might be as an employee.

A survey by careerbuilder.com found that nearly half of all employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, rejecting those whose social media profiles include provocative photos, evidence of drug use or drinking, negative posts about previous employers or co-workers, or comments that might be perceived as racist, sexist, or ageist. Drexler goes on to state, that evidence of how much time you spend on social media could give employers reason to worry that the habit could get in the way of actual work.

She provides advice for career seekers (and those who are currently employed): Clean it up, and tailor what you can to the image you would like to craft for yourself as a professional. Drexler continues:

1. Keep it (more or less) positive. Keep it classy—and keep your problems to yourself. Whether you are looking for a job or simply looking to keep the one you have, it is important to remember what you write matters.

2. Think before you selfie.

3. Privatize. Not quite the point of social media, but if you are going to insist on being free to write or post whatever you would like, and want impunity, the only option is to make your accounts private.

4. Use social media for good, not evil.

I am new to using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram professionally, and I am still learning the nuances of posting on my social media sites. I appreciate the advice and guidance I have been given — including that from my college-age sons — in regard to Tweets and posts. While I have taken that advice to heart, and I am mindful of my posts (even on my personal page), I realized that as a University president who works closely with students I needed to stress the importance of maintaining a positive social media image. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more are fun tools to communicate with friends and family, but those communications in the form of Tweets, status updates, and photographs, can cause great harm to a person’s future or current professional career.

Employers will look for (and look at) your social media sites. Many large employers have teams dedicated to scouring social media sites of individuals they may wish to hire. The photo of you at a party surrounded by beer bottles, compared to a photo of the individual who is in a volunteer setting, will speak volumes to a potential employer. A racist or sexist Tweet will not endear you to a hiring manager, just as negative posts will not.

As Drexler said, “It’s okay to be a person who likes to have fun, or is sarcastic, maybe even a little subversive at times; people are complex. But it’s important to balance such posts with observations, comments, or photos of a more serious nature, and to keep in mind, always, that how you present yourself through social media is no different than how you present yourself in a job interview, or at the office.”

Words to remember.