So you’re searching for a job or an internship and being passed over for offer after offer; you’re a great candidate, and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to. Are you still unsure as to what you’re doing wrong? Let’s talk social media. We’ve all heard it time and time again—that it’s a necessity to clean up our social media. It’s the factor that career experts are saying is costing millennials scores of job offers and interviews every day that we’re probably not even aware of. Well, the experts are right—our online profiles are contributing more to our potential employers’ perceptions of us than we think. Joe Bontke, outreach manager for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) office in Houston, said in a recent New York Times article that 75 percent of recruiters are required to do online research of candidates, and 70 percent have rejected candidates because of what they found.
But that’s unfair, you say—I use my social media for fun, and feel cheated having to censor it. And that’s understandable. After all, if the idea is to keep your social and professional lives separate in the first place, having professional representatives search your social profiles seems a bit contradictory. So the question is this: how can you balance being able to use your social media freely, while still being professional doing it? It’s simpler than you probably think.
The first obvious step you should consider with all of your online profiles if you haven’t already is privacy settings. They’re the easiest way to keep content that you can’t live without posting safe from unwanted eyes. Facebook is the site that these privacy settings are most applicable to, and that gives you the most freedom in selecting the privacy terms, down to individual pieces of content. For a detailed walk-through of how to manage your Facebook settings, continue reading here.
On a more general note, it is also important to stay up-to-date on different sites’ privacy settings overall. If you haven’t heard about Facebook’s new policy change, announced on Thursday, Oct. 10, read here to stay informed and see how the new change could affect you.
Moving beyond Facebook, if your Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts aren’t set to private, consider it as an option. Although these networks offer less freedom than Facebook to customize what you can hide and what you can’t, it’s a crucial step to stop and ask yourself: How much does it really mean to me for my accounts to be public, and is possibly losing a job opportunity worth the sacrifice?
In regards to Twitter, remember that when discussing personal matters that don’t necessarily need to be tweeted publically, communicating with individuals privately through direct messaging is a highly under-publicized option that is available to users.
Pinterest is another outlet that users frequently disregard when cleaning up their social media, though recruiters can just as easily comb through what you’re pinning as they can through what you’re tweeting or posting about on Facebook. So if you decide that you don’t want employers seeing your pictures of nearly-identical baggy sweater + scarf combos or your collection of snarky e-cards, consider making individual boards private so that only you and authorized pinners can see them, or consider setting your Pinterest account so that it doesn’t come up when your name is searched at all.
The flip side of cleaning your social media involves going through the process of branding yourself. The necessity of cleaning up your social media is somewhat obvious–either hiding or deleting altogether any content related to alcohol, drugs, weapons, strong political or religious views, and irresponsible, crude, or inappropriate behavior in general is easily fixable. However, if an employer looks through your profile and finds it to be abnormally clean, looking more like an online resume than a social profile, that can be off-putting too. Your online profiles should reflect who you are, in all the best ways. Content about organizations that you’re involved in, family events, vacations and everyday life experiences show that you’ve got personality and a vibrant social life that complements who you are as a worker and a person. So be wary of deleting every single post that’s not job or school-related—it’s not necessary and can be just as harmful as having inappropriate content.
Another great strategy for tweaking your accounts to make them more appealing is to check what your bio is saying about you. Many users, when creating accounts, often write a quick, “off-the-top-of-head” statement about themselves, move on to finishing setting up the account, and then never come back to it. If you haven’t checked on what your “About Me” section says about you recently, then take some time to go back and decide how you want to brand yourself to viewers. After all, the About Me section, regardless of the social media channel, is often the first thing that a viewer sees when they visit your page, immediately following the profile picture. Start them off strong with a simple statement about who you are that can be fun and professional at the same time.
Last but not least, coordinate your avatars (profile pictures) throughout your various profiles. Having a professional picture doesn’t have to mean that your picture is boring—choose an up-close shot of your face in an appropriate setting with a winning smile, and that is professional enough. When employers go to search you through multiple outlets, displaying the same fun yet toned-down picture of yourself across the board helps employers to know for sure that they’ve found your account, ensuring that your name is not credited to someone who isn’t actually you.
Although social media won’t always make or break the potential for a job offer, it certainly has in the past, and should be considered a force to be reckoned with. By cleaning up your social media, you can look towards your dream job with one fewer hurtle standing in your way.