At this point, social media has been a ubiquitous facet of pop culture for the better part of a decade. Ever since Facebook and Myspace changed the way people interact online, one of the big trends in the internet world has been the act of getting more social in every manner possible. From more spontaneous social interactions (Twitter) to professional networking (LinkedIn), from sharing photos (Instagram) to looping videos (Vine), social media has now come up with a mirror or foil for virtually every type of human interaction.
There’s nothing wrong with getting social online and taking advantage of the many resources the internet now provides in the form of social media. However, with half a dozen different accounts spread across the internet, you need to keep in mind that the concept of your “online reputation” is a very real thing.
Make no mistake, social media is not purely “social” in application anymore. Employers frequently hit the web to see how their current employees or potential applicants are behaving. If your social posts are disrespectful of employers or co-workers, lewd or profane, racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive, they can easily cast you in a thoroughly unflattering light. Sometimes, that blow to your reputation can be enough to get you fired or to lose you your chance at landing a great job.
Put simply, your online social image is a big deal. In job interviews, your social image can be as important as the image you paint of yourself with resumes, job applications, or in interviews. If you are currently hunting for a job, make it your mantra not to post anything online that you think could damage the glossy reputation you are looking to build with potential employers. In fact, that MO is a good one for all professionals to adopt.
However, it is also quite possible that, while you are fully committed to turning over a new leaf with your social media behavior, you still have some cleaning up to do. Since most people have had their Facebook accounts for at least five or six years now—and some other social media profiles for almost as long—there are literally years of your posts and interactions online, just waiting to be plucked and judged by employers. In that time, you’ve also probably gotten more mature and realized the importance of being professional online, but that doesn’t make your older posts look any better.
Luckily, there are ways you can do damage control to prevent employers from opening the Pandora’s Box that is your social media past. First off, delete any social media accounts you don’t currently use. Myspace might have been a perfect avenue for you to express your teenage angst, but you don’t need to keep your profile for posterity’s sake if it makes you look unprofessional.
Secondly, clean up your current profiles. Delete or untag any questionable photographs you or friends have posted online over the years, then head back through your feed for posts and comments that might raise a red flag. If a post makes you cringe, it will probably have a similar effect on your prospective employers.
Finally, get to work on establishing a glowing social image. Even if employers uncover questionable content from your social media past, they may be able to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, everyone makes mistakes when they are young and rash. However, if you are posting offensive or off-putting content in the here and now, that is a lot less forgivable to most employers.
Instead of posting offensive videos or comments laced with complaints about work, post thoughtful articles or videos pertaining to your field, then try to start engaging conversations with friends or colleagues. Potential employers checking your social media profiles will appreciate your professional social behavior, and you might stand a much better chance of getting the job as a result.
About the author:
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.