In Pursuit of Profession: Don’t let social media wreck your job search


One person’s harmless posts or personal pics are another person’s political vitriol or racy photos. Social media can derail a job search faster than you can say “Facebook.” I talked with a local expert to help us help ourselves when we’re online.

We’ve all heard of the following scenario: Boy graduates from a prestigious university with stellar grades in a highly sought after field. At the same time, boy held down a job, participated in various extra-curricular activities and ran track. But when it comes time to make the rounds on the job interview circuit, things aren’t going well. The recruiters aren’t getting back to him. Weeks go by while he’s sits idle, dazed and confused by his situation when, finally, light breaks through the clouds and he lands an interview! But as soon as he sits down in front of the human resources representative, she hands him a stack of papers, asking him to please explain his hateful posts about various presidential candidates and photos of him partying – drinking beers on a beach surrounded by other college party goers - with comments about him being underage. Before he can get an excuse out of his drying mouth, he feels the bile bubbling up at the back of his throat. What he thought were harmless, personal posts have come back to haunt him, big time.

The best of who you are

There’s no way to escape social media (SM) these days. Even if you don’t post things to your own Facebook page, someone else may post something about you, perhaps tagging you in a pic or commenting on a group of which you’re a prominent member. And those items are readily accessible to recruiters and HR professionals with just a few keystrokes.

While you can’t control everything in the SM universe, you can control what you post – posts that can and will affect your job search. “The top things to not post on social media is subjective to the culture or business philosophy of the hiring company,” said Catherine Peña, Online Marketing Navigator and Certified SCORE Mentor. “So my rule of thumb follows the saying ‘make sure you wear clean underwear and socks in case …’ To modernize this saying: make sure your social media posts represent the best of who you are.”

The big mistakes

So what are some of SM mistakes we should never make? “I think there are two areas where people make the biggest mistakes while participating online that can affect their employment opportunities,” said Peña. “The first mistake is typically with their Facebook profile by not taking the time to review their privacy settings. Most use Facebook for personal interaction so keep it personal by using the privacy settings to limit who sees their posts and pictures. It can be tedious to find and then change the settings, but well worth the few minutes to do so. Unfortunately, in a competitive job market, Human Resources (HR) teams may be looking for inflammatory comments, unflattering pictures or questionable associations to help narrow a field among top employment candidates.

“Another mistake made by people is generational, for instance, Generation X and Baby Boomers, who are not actively participating in social media are least likely to not have a LinkedIn profile. These individuals looking for jobs or new careers are missing out on employment opportunities due to their absence from this professional social media platform. Spending the time to set up a LinkedIn profile with a great headshot and making sure there no grammatical errors will pay dividends.”

With mobile devices becoming ever more ubiquitous, SM posts are often made on the fly. When this happens, things like proper grammar and punctuation go out the window. But be sure to not overlook these, and other, important items that reflect on you, said Peña. “Sentence structure, grammar, and spelling are important, but content is more important. An occasional typo can be overlooked when the content provides valuable information for the target market. Something else to consider is what kind of employee the company is looking to hire. For example, a Fortune 500 company might look at one’s grammatical syntax while another company might care more about someone who is on trend with use of abbreviations and emjois.”

Accentuate the positive

When talking about SM, it’s often best to concentrate on managing the positive rather than trying to avoid the negative. “I advise my clients to schedule a meeting with themselves to manage social media opposed to social media managing them,” said Peña. “For example, regularly schedule “x” amount of time a day for developing social media content. Create a plan to oversee your online presence by checking your privacy settings and look to delete those questionable pictures and posts from your profile to “clean up youthful indiscretions.” Remember don’t use this as an excuse to post inappropriately because a digital trail always exists, control your image by being smart in the first place.”

Being smart might be easier than you think when you take some time to recall all of the great things that you do in your life that don’t involve a righteous keg stand. “I recommend sharing posts about volunteerism, awards earned or won, accolades, and testimonials which will boost one in the eyes of an HR person,” Peña said. “For example, sharing life events that connect you in a positive way to other people or community, hence the “social” part of social media. For instance, saying something nice on your alma mater’s social media platform connects you with others who graduated there or are fans who in turn might be hiring or know someone who is hiring. Also, what are one’s hobbies? Dancing, fishing, golf, other sports, arts, and music attract other like-minded connections. Posting with your friends and family examples of your unique talents over and over via social media will increase one’s online presence and imply expertise. Especially important when that expertise connects with your job skills.”