For most of us, being active on social media is both great fun and an essential way of staying connected. Vacation photos, funny memes, timely news articles, DMs from friends, random musings you just have to share — our feeds are not only chock-full of curated info, they're also today's primary tool for communication.
But, is it possible that something on social could set back your job search, or that your digital footprint could do-in the chances of securing your dream job?
In short: yes. So, here's the lowdown on how social media usage can hinder — or help — your career.
Nowhere to hide
"You're probably more visible than you know," cautions Karen Oakey, director of human resources for Fracture, a Gainesville, Fla.-based company that allows users to upload digital photos to fracture.me, and have them printed directly onto durable, frameless glass.
In fact, when Oakey speaks to students or young professionals, she suggests they start by Googling their own names. "That usually prompts a lot of gasps, sighs and OMGs," says Oakey. And since the trend in hiring today is to think of a candidate as a "whole person," not simply someone who's on the clock to perform a specific function, you need to be mindful of what you put out there.
"Think of it like online dating," says Steph Corker, a Vancouver-based recruiter who works with some of Canada's leading fashion and lifestyle brands including Lululemon and Knix. "How you present yourself online should match up with who you are in person."
That's exactly what didn't happen when Alyssa Royse, co-owner of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, set out to add an Olympic weightlifting coach to her staff. The gym, Royse explains, has a very particular vibe, which is all about body positivity, inclusivity and joy. Trainers who approach fitness primarily as a tool for weight loss instead of good health, who fat shame or criticize LGBTQ lifestyles are not the right fit.
"Any potential employee whose online presence uses language about bodies or food that is based in shame and negativity, or whose posts are homophobic, is immediately out of the running," says Royse.
The candidate Royse had in mind for the weightlifting coach position had excellent credentials and was a great conversationalist during the interview. So great, in fact, that Royse offered verbal acknowledgement that she intended to make a job offer. Then Royse checked the candidate's social media and found a post about their belief that supporting people's usage of preferred gender pronouns is "too politically correct" and a "bridge too far" for them to go.
"We realized immediately that the candidate would not work for our close-knit, supportive community," says Royse. "Checking their social media helped us dodge a bullet — and clarify for ourselves what kind of place we want to be."
When it comes to social media, there's also a lot of gray area around whether you're just you, or whether you're a representative of the company that employs you. And, that got Amy* into hot water earlier this year when she criticized a decision made by her employer from her personal Twitter account.
Within a half hour of her post, her boss emailed to set up a meeting with HR representatives. But the meeting turned out to be about not just the public criticism, but also about content in other, older tweets that her employers had found and took issue with. "It all blew up into something much bigger than it originally was," says Amy.
Ultimately, she wasn't fired and was let off with a written reprimand. But her boss' attitude toward her changed overnight. "There was no more eye contact, and I no longer really felt like I was part of the team," she says. Feeling frozen out, Amy chose to quit a few weeks later.
So, how can you be smart when it comes to social media? Here are some pro tips to get you started and sorted.
- Think before you post
Since any comments you make on a public website could quite possibly follow you forever in cyberspace, make sure you're proud of everything you post. If you can live with it being part of your public life, then it's probably OK.
- Beware of blind spots
The internet is often a tinderbox waiting to explode — and what might be a benign observation or comment to you can be controversial or offensive to someone else. If it's at all possible that your post might be misinterpreted — or if you're not thoroughly familiar with the topic — better to refrain than falter.
- Make social media work for you
Trying to land a job at a fashion company? Then create a fashion-focused public profile that potential employers can peruse while considering your application. Hoping to work in the environmental industry? Comment regularly on pertinent threads and feeds to show you're already engaged with the sector's trending topics. By expanding your digital footprint in this constructive, layered manner, you'll give potential employers a broader picture of who you are and what you can add to a team.
- Secure your settings
Make it difficult for a company's hiring manager to find personal information about you, suggests Oakey . Become an expert at Facebook's extensive audience settings and create various lists ("Professional Contacts," "Family," "Close Friends") then restrict certain groups from seeing particular content. Test the settings regularly via the "View As" function.
Another option: Keep one platform strictly private (via settings or under another name) and use it to share all your personal photos and content. Make your other platforms public, and use those as hubs for professional comments and interaction.
*Some names have been changed to protect the source's privacy.