You’ve heard this before: Be careful what you put online. After all, hiring managers turn to social media to learn things about you that your resume doesn’t reveal. But somehow, people are still making crucial mistakes.
That’s where we step in to give you tips straight from the mouths of people who are very good at stalking candidates online. As the founder of a recruitment firm for administrative and HR professionals, I want to make sure you know that whether you’re currently employed or job searching, the impression you give is based upon the totality of available information about you—that includes your Facebook page, Twitter posts, LinkedIn profile, Tumblr account, Medium blogs, and anything else that’s considered public information.
So, while it may be super tempting to update your Facebook every single Monday with something about how much you dread going back to work after the weekend, you need to get your social media presence under control if you want to put forth the best possible first impression.
1. There’s a Line Between Fun and Unprofessional
Now that we’ve established that the very people you want to impress (your current or potential employers) are aware of your online presence and behavior, why would you want to risk posting information about yourself that could derail you from your next great opportunity—be that an advancement or new gig? We heard from one VP of HR who decided not to extend an offer to a candidate when she stumbled on the candidate’s Tumblr account with posts detailing the best way to roll a joint. Another client backed out of a confirmed interview after he came across a candidate’s Facebook page showcasing a picture of him playing beer bong and looking anything but sober. It’s not the kind of image your future place of employment wants to see when it’s evaluating your professionalism.
2. Audit Your Online Images
Go ahead, check yourself out. Does your LinkedIn profile picture convey the right message about you? Here’s a hint: The photo you use should not be the same one you use for your Tinder profile. You want one that’s professional, but not boring. Slice-of-life pictures that depict you doing something interesting, like hiking in the mountains or posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, as opposed to the expected headshot are perfectly suitable. While you’re at it, go ahead and sanitize (i.e., purge!) any other profile photos and albums you have living in your Facebook archive that you wouldn’t want to share with your future boss.
3. Make it Private
Double-check your privacy settings across all your profiles. It’s one thing for a potential employer to be able to find your Facebook account and see your profile pic; it’s a whole other thing for him to be able to read through your feed and scroll through all of your (what should be) private photos. Additionally, keep in mind that companies can and do change their policies at any given time, which could result in previously-private information becoming revealed. And private or not, your safest bet is to avoid putting anything out there that could be misconstrued. If it’s questionable, get rid of it.
4. Be Consistent
Remember, hiring managers are using your social media to obtain more information about you, as well as corroborate items on your resume or things you say during interviews. So, for example, if your resume portrays you as a marketing expert with years of experience in marketing, but your LinkedIn profile suggests your background is in business development, this could create doubt about what skills you actually have. If you’re choosing to highlight certain experiences (or downplay others), that’s OK, but be consistent about it. The same holds true for dates on your resume and LinkedIn—they need to match if you want to be credible.
5. Keep the Soapboxing to a Minimum
Just as your photos might convey an image of you that doesn’t match what a potential employer is looking for, so too can your written words. Keep your online opinions and commentary relatively non-controversial. A blog post about the best national parks for your next adventure holiday is far less likely to offend than one about your position on legalizing marijuana. It’s fine to take a political stand, but be classy about it. A spew of profanities about the party you don’t support instead of a clear statement describing your beliefs is off-putting and immature. If you’re not sure if it’s OK to post something, take that as a sign that you shouldn’t post it. And, if you’ve had a couple of drinks and are feeling emboldened by a buzz, you’re better off sleeping on it and deciding in the clear light of morning if you still want to publish that opinion.
6. Google Yourself
If you’re wondering what a potential employer is likely to discover about you, just do what he’s going to do: Google yourself. This is a great way to identify any remaining things you want to change or delete. If you need to, enlist a service for professional social media support, like ReputationDefender, which creates positive search results on your behalf. It can be nerve-wracking to think of your current manager checking out your online presence, but that’s all the more reason to get your digital self in order stat. You can even proactively generate content about yourself, too, by putting together a simple personal website, publishing on LinkedIn Pulse, or Medium.
There’s something of an art form to filtering your online image and also being true to yourself. I’m by no means suggesting that you censor yourself to the point that you’re unrecognizable or attempt to be someone who supports causes you don’t really care about because you think it’ll make you look good. Putting on a fake front with the hopes of obtaining a job offer is obviously the wrong approach to polishing your online presence. And there’s also no reason to remove yourself from the online world you’ve created for yourself. Instead, look at it as curating yourself in an effort to make the best impression possible.