It is well-documented that poor use of social media can derail careers. However, it’s just as likely that social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn could help you land your next job.
A 2013 study by the recruiting technology company Jobvite found that 94% of employers use or plan to use social networks as part of their hiring process. Some employers use social-media tools to locate candidates worth calling in for interviews, and others use them to weed out applicants who seem unprofessional or otherwise problematic. With dozens of qualified job hunters applying for most openings these days, employers often search for any excuse to remove candidates from contention.
Here’s how to make the most of your online presence…
REMOVE RED FLAGS ONLINE
It may seem obvious that you should delete posts and photos that you would not want an employer to see such as those showing you partying or in various states of undress. But a surprising number of people don’t do this, partly because they think their privacy settings are limiting access to their sites.
Social-networks’ privacy settings are supposed to allow us to restrict access to our sensitive posts and photos so that they can be viewed only by the people we choose—but these privacy settings tend to be confusing, and many people’s pages aren’t as private as they think.
A Columbia University study found that all 65 Facebook users who participated in the study were sharing information in ways they did not intend.
It always is better to err on the side of caution when your career is on the line and simply delete anything that could cause problems or doesn’t seem totally professional.
Also, be wary of the following, which can seem innocent but could cost you a job…
Complaints. If you have used your social-media account to vent anger at businesses, bad drivers, former employers, your current boss or anyone else, remove as many of those posts as possible. Excessive complaining may make you appear to be a negative person, and employers don’t like to hire people who have poor attitudes.
Political commentary. A potential employer might have different political opinions—or a company might worry that some of its customers do. At the very least, refrain from political posts that make you seem extreme or inflexible in your views. Such posts could make employers worry that you will have trouble getting along with coworkers.
Anything that could be interpreted as insensitive to other people. This includes jokes that involve race, gender or sexual orientation. You don’t want to give employers any reason to even consider the possibility that you might say or do something racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory.
Anything a current or former employer could consider confidential. If there is something on your social-network page that a past employer might not want shared, other employers might worry that you would not protect their private information either. This includes details about your accomplishments that you include on your LinkedIn profile. If you accomplished something that your company has not made public, don’t include details of it online.
When it comes to Facebook or other networks, avoid mentioning incidents that your employers wouldn’t want customers or investors to know. For example, take down any posts poking fun at prior employers’ embarrassing strategic missteps or customer relations blunders.
Arguments. Employers might worry that people who become embroiled in heated debates online could become argumentative in the workplace as well. Don’t show your temper online.
MANAGE YOUR ONLINE PROFILE
Don’t stress out too much if you realize that you won’t be able to totally clear your profile of all potentially damaging information. The fact is, you are better off working for a place where the people have similar values to you so that you won’t clash down the road.
If you choose not to delete potentially problematic posts—or cannot fully do so because other people have reposted them elsewhere—your best bet is to add numerous posts and updates designed to create the impression that you want people to have of you. For example, if you choose not to remove partisan political commentary, add posts showing that you respect people who hold the opposite viewpoint, even though you don’t agree with them.
Bottom line: Look at your social media, and try to put yourself in an employer’s shoes. What would he/she think about you if he sees what you post?
MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU
An increasing number of employers are now using social networks—particularly LinkedIn—to locate potential hires. To make the most of this opportunity…
Paint yourself as an industry insider. Use LinkedIn and other social networks to comment on important industry news. Join LinkedIn groups, Twitter chats and Google+ communities that include employees and executives at companies where you would like to work. Answer questions posted there, and be generous with your expertise. Don’t go overboard and try to answer every question—being too active on social networks may create the impression that your time isn’t valuable. Just contribute when you have something especially useful and intelligent to say.
Try to show that you understand the sector’s “pain points”—the issues currently causing sleepless nights for executives and key customers.
Example: When a complicated new government regulation affects your sector, write a post or update that helps interpret the regulation or offers a tip for coping with it.
Use keywords to make it easier for people to find you online. What are the keywords an employer might search on the Internet if he were looking to hire someone like you? These might include specific subsectors, in-demand skills or specialized degrees or certifications. Include these keywords in your LinkedIn page headline and prior job titles to help make your page appear higher in the listings when these keywords are searched, improving the odds that employers will find you. Use them in your updates and bios on all of the social networks.
Example: Rather than list a prior job title as “Assistant Manager,” list it as “Assistant Manager, Veterinary Pharmaceuticals.” This is more targeted.
Add a photo. LinkedIn users who include photos of themselves are seven times more likely to have their profiles viewed, according to LinkedIn’s research. This photo should be a head-and-shoulders shot that makes you appear friendly and professional. You should be smiling and well-dressed. Eliminate anything distracting in the photo, either in the background or in your wardrobe.
Turn your headlines into your personal elevator pitch. On LinkedIn, most people simply list their job titles as their headline. For job hunters, that’s a wasted opportunity. This headline will appear prominently in LinkedIn’s search results, so your goal should be to write something that will quickly pique potential employers’ interest. Once you have a great LinkedIn headline, use it as your Twitter bio and adapt it for Google+ and Facebook, too. For example, rather than write, “Project manager,” you might write “PMP-certified consumer electronics project manager. Spearheaded successful multimillion-dollar 2013 product launch.”
BE AWARE OF PERCEPTIONS
Employers know that when an employee overhauls his LinkedIn page, it’s often a sign of an impending career move. To reduce the risk that updating your page will tip off your employer that you are thinking about leaving, select “Turn on/off your activity broadcasts” from LinkedIn’s “Privacy & Settings” menu (hover over your picture in the upper right). If the box that appears is checked, uncheck it, then click “Save changes.”
An employer or coworkers still could stumble across the fact that you have made LinkedIn changes, however, so have an explanation ready in case someone raises the topic. For example, you can tell a colleague that you want your page to be as impressive as possible because potential clients sometimes use LinkedIn to investigate you.
TO DELETE DAMAGING POSTS
Here’s how to delete questionable posts, updates and tweets from social media…
For Facebook: Hover over the post in your Timeline…click the V-shaped icon in the upper-right corner…then select “Delete.”
For LinkedIn: Select “Your Updates” from the “All Updates” drop-down list…find the questionable post…then click “Delete.”
For Twitter: Go to your profile page…locate the post you want to get rid of…then click “Delete” for that post.