To Share or Not to Share: The Professional Downside of Your Online Social Life

According to a survey taken by CareerBuilder in June of more than 2,600 hiring managers, 45% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates.

The survey also revealed which of the leading networking sites employers were most likely to consult. Leading at 29% was Facebook, with Twitter in last place at a mere (but significant) 7%.

These results shouldn’t come as a surprise to any recent grad, among the first generation of young professionals to grow up with online net

working. It’s an excellent way to keep track of who you know. But there’s a catch – social media, while an excellent networking tool, creates a level of transparency that can potentially damage your reputation and cut your employment or job search short.

This whole ‘things NOT to put on Facebook’ idea is hardly new, but for recent graduates used to the free-wheeling party atmosphere of college, cleaning up online is an important and often overlooked step in successfully assimilating into the ‘working world’.

Take for instance Kimberly Swann, the UK teen fired from her job this past spring for posting a series of comments expressing her apparent dissatisfaction with her employer on Facebook. And she’s not the only one caught the victim of an increasingly transparent social sphere. Check out Kevin, a stylish intern whose Halloween ‘personal day’ landed him a front-and-center photo in a company email:

So what can you do to make sure you’re not the next Kimberly or Kevin?

Facebook

The number one reason cited by employers that caused them not to hire candidates researched online was provocative or inappropriate photographs or information. With all its photo and comment sharing capabilities, Facebook is prime real estate for all kinds of damaging material.

  • A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want it on the front page of a national newspaper, take it off of Facebook. Since it is a primarily social resource, profile pictures don’t need to be overly professional, but it should go without saying that any bottle of tequila needs to be cropped out.
  • An employer’s goal is to create an accurate picture of who you are and how well you will fit into company culture. Make sure they get the ‘right idea’about you. This includes comments and status updates on your wall, which give employers a chance to see your communication skills and get a feel for the kind of people you hang around with. Don’t hesitate to start monitoring your comments if you have friends who often post things on your wall that aren’t career-worthy. Never use ‘text’ speech (L8R G8R!) – which was actually cited by the CareerBuilder survey as a reason for hiring managers to overlook an applicant.
  • Start monitoring your Facebook before you start searching for a job, not during. Times have changed, and online clean-up needs to become an integral part of your job search – at times it can be just as important as building up your resume or wearing a neatly pressed suit to your interview.
  • Remember that your online presence is all about personal branding. The clothes you wear, the people you hang around with, and the way you carry yourself all play a roll in your ‘personal brand’ – it’s the overall picture that your employer sees when considering you as a new hire. Facebook can either help or harm you on this front – use it to your advantage to reinforce all of those great qualities we know you have!

Twitter

Twitter is an entirely different beast than sites like Facebook or MySpace. Sure, only 7% of employers cited following potential job applicants as a method of screening – but the danger is still out there even if no one but your closest friends are following you. Twitter is an openly searchable, fast-paced and often mobile online environment used for quick status updates that describe where you are or what you’re thinking at the time of the post. The nature of twitter lends itself to a few very different rules than Facebook.

  • Unless your account is protected, all twitter posts are searchable by the general public. Not only that, but once they’re out there, they’re virtually impossible to retrieve. The internet NEVER FORGETS. So be careful about what you post! Here’s a great blog post with examples of what NOT to post on Twitter. You can avoid the possibility of your posts coming up in search results by protecting your account with privacy settings, but it’s impossible to remove tweets from the results once they are there. (damage control is a moot point.)
  • NEVER say anything damaging about an employer, a co-worker, or a client on Twitter. A good rule to live by is to simply never discuss work, good or bad, on Twitter (or Facebook). Getting into the habit early will help you keep control later when something *totally and completely infuriating* happens at work and you feel the need to share it with all of your closest friends. (Not to mention the few million who happen to pull up your tweet in their search results.)

A great example of ‘Things Your Boss Does Not Need to Know’:

Here at Doostang we actually think this is an excellent idea, but depending on your industry, your employer may not be as easily amused.

It will be interesting to see the repercussions of the internet age in years to come when all of our social media-savvy college kids and young professionals grow up and become hot shot CEO’s and hiring managers. Like we said, the internet never forgets, so get your stuff together now and hopefully prevent any of those embarrassing remarks or photos from showing up later in life when the stakes are a lot higher.

Good luck, and TGIF!

The @doostang Team

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  1. [...] Social media has a large and growing impact on reference checking. For years, employers have Googled candidates but now they are reaching further into social media sites. Be very cognizant of anything you post on the web! Your comments, blogs, photos, and even personal information is easily found with just a few clicks of the mouse. If your name has been mentioned in a newspaper, it will probably be on the web. If you are part of a group with an online directory, your name will show up. Nothing is private – nothing. It is amazing what is available to a savvy searcher who knows how to find information. It is up to you to maintain a solid online reputation. [...]

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