Keeping Social Media Professional: How to Make Sure Your Online Presence Doesn’t Scare Away Future Employers

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their social media pages. If you have carefully curated social media, your accounts can work in your favor to spark interest and add to your resume. However, if you are not careful about what you post, these platforms can be the difference between getting a job offer or not.

Search Yourself– What Comes Up?

It is important to state that social media is in the personal domain and control of the user. However, when applying for a job, people must know that their prospective employer will most likely search them and look for their social media accounts.

To hear an employer’s perspective on the effects of social media on the hiring process, I spoke with Anna Zeck, Editorial Director at 10 Missions Media in St. Paul. Anna is also a crucial member of the hiring committee at her company.

Anna states that people need to expect that employers will look them up during the search process, and recommends setting your social media accounts to private. Still, some companies pay a service to see private accounts, but it is a start.

Photo by Caio from Pexels

She also recommends looking yourself up and thinking about the content that comes up from an employer’s perspective.

“I think it’s very important for students to google their names and see what comes up. You would be surprised! There are things that might come up from school projects or something long ago that you’ve forgotten about,” Anna says. “I’ll give you an example: A former staff writer applied and when I googled his name, all these Nazi propaganda images came up. Well, come to find out, in high school, he gave a presentation about Nazi propaganda for a history class and had to upload his PowerPoint presentation online, which he never took down. It’s just not a good look!”

Professional Guidelines to Follow

Of course, every company is different in how they look at social media and every person can’t be expected to be a saint on their platforms. Anna even states that she is often very understanding of social media, especially because she is so young, though not all employers are the same. However, there are some red flags that should always be avoided on social media. These include:

  • Anything hateful towards other people. This includes racist comments, slurs, nationalist propaganda, etc.
  • Anything explicitly sexual, vulgar, or graphic of that nature. This includes photos and videos, but also comments and tweets of this nature.
  • Anything showing you partying, drinking, doing drugs, etc., especially if you are underage.

In response to this last point, Anna provided further insight: “When recent college grads apply, I expect to see photos of parties or classic college activities, so I don’t read too much into that either. Just know that it is human nature for people to form opinions/assumptions/first impressions off of others based on photos they see. You don’t want to be going into an interview already having to come from behind or have to dispel an inaccurate assumption.”

Think About Your Position

When curating your social media to be professional, it is also a good idea to think about the type of job you are applying for. Anna gives a great example of this:

“I also think it makes a difference if the job you are applying for is a more public position. For example, as a journalist, your work is very public and it’s reasonable to assume that sources will google you, as well,” she says. “So, I want someone who will be a good representative of our publications and who won’t require a ton of explaining when googling his or her name. One time, someone applied for an editor position and when I looked on her Facebook page, she frequently posted about political conspiracy theories. Considering one of the tenets of journalism is truth and objectivity, I knew I would never be able to fully trust her as a journalist and I subsequently canceled the interview.”

Photo by Kerde Severin from PexelsThree Tips from a Social Media Professional

I was also able to get in touch with Jennifer Radke, CEO of the National Institute for Social Media, and I asked her what her top three tips for maintaining a professional image on social media were. Here were the results:

Be Purposeful.

Jennifer’s first suggestion is to make sure you know the goal of each platform and how you want to use it. Then, use that criteria to shape your online profiles.

“For example,” she says, “if you are wanting to network with individuals in your field to learn and grow through discussion and brainstorming, you will want to think strategically about who you connect with, the content that you share, and the ask you make.”

Be Present.

“I like to compare this to networking in person.  You don’t just want to get your profile all ‘dressed up’ and then stand in the corner. It is ineffective and will not help you reach your goals,” Jennifer says.

To be present, one must join in on the conversation, share content, respond to comments, and ask questions.

Be Real.

It may seem easy, but being true to yourself is one of the most important things.

“You can’t claim to be one thing online and be another thing in person,” says Jennifer. “Take the time to evaluate who you are and what you bring to the table and then help to share that with the world.  Being something you are not will create red flags and distrust.”

Career Development is Here to Help

“In all, I don’t think you need to try to make your social media look professional to the point where you’re not being authentic to yourself or not using social media the way you actually want to, but I do think students should simply use discretion and consider whether they would want to explain something to a potential boss or your parents. If you would be embarrassed to explain a post to your parents, considering whether it’s crossing the line,” Anna says.

These points made by Anna are a great start, but if you’re still curious about whether your social media looks professional and is ready to be looked at by a future employer, reach out to the Career Development Office. Our career counselors are happy to go over your LinkedIn and other social media accounts with you to make sure they are profession-ready. Email, or call (651) 690-8890 to schedule an appointment.

By Mandy Hay
Mandy Hay Career Assistant Mandy Hay