Is Your Social Media and Online Presence Trashing Your Chances of Getting Hired?

Close-up of electronic device screen showing several social media icons.How’s your job search or career change going?  Let’s see, got your required training or degree?  Check.  Have the required amount of work-related experience?  Check.  Have the necessary skills?  Check.  Got any required credentials (licenses, certifications, etc.)?  Check.  Got a good list of professional references?  Check.  Feel that you did well on the recent job interviews?  Check.

So, why aren’t employers beating down your door with job offers?

Maybe potential employers have, or at least think they have, insight about you personally.  They think they know the kind of person you are, your attitudes about people and things, and they don’t like what they see.  They know you were on your best behavior during the interview, but recognize that the “real you” will come out once you are hired and on the job.  Despite what they saw during the interview, now they are scared and unsure.  How can they possibly make such assumptions about you?

Think about it; all a potential employer has to do is look on the internet, especially at social media, and they can learn a lot about you – perhaps more than you want them to know, and maybe some of it isn’t even true.  Let’s take a look at a few social media sites you frequent and see what anyone can easily learn about you in only a few minutes.

Ok, I see that in your last three postings you dropped the “f-bomb” five times.  Here’s a picture of you partying a little too hard last weekend.  It looks like you hang with some pretty foul-mouthed, shady-looking individuals, and they are describing something you did which sounds sort of illegal.  That joke you posted sounds rather racist.  Oh, here’s a post where you are using rather colorful and derogatory language to really rip on your current boss and employer.  Is this the real you?

Check you out on social media?  Can they do that?

Yes they can, and yes they do.  All the time.

According to a national online survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder between February 10 and March 17, 2016:

“Sixty percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up significantly from 52 percent last year, 22 percent in 2008 and 11 percent in 2006, when the survey was first conducted. Additionally, 59 percent of hiring managers use search engines to research candidates – compared to 51 percent last year.”

The findings go on to say:

“Most hiring managers aren’t intentionally looking for negatives. Six in ten employers who currently use social networking sites to research job candidates (60 percent) are “looking for information that supports their qualifications for the job,” according to the survey. For some occupations, this could include a professional portfolio. Fifty-three percent of these hiring managers want to see if the candidate has a professional online persona, 30 percent want to see what other people are posting about the candidate, and 21 percent admit they’re looking for reasons not to hire the candidate.” (Click here for link to a CareerBuilder press release about the survey results.)

Wait a minute; isn’t checking out someone online an illegal hiring practice or something?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there are numerous laws which govern employment practices, including:

The EEOC goes on to state:

“Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.  The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.” (Link here.)

Now, I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice or guidance, but it would appear that so long as what they learn about you online is not used to discriminate against you in a manner which is illegal, potential employers can look all they want and make assumptions about you which could impact their hiring decisions.  For example, if they see on social medial that you are a member of a protected class (minority, gay, etc.) and then decide not to hire you based solely on that information, such an action would be an obvious and illegal civil rights violation.  However, if you are a student teacher looking for a full-time teaching position and post online how you have “had a bad week and are tired of dealing with all the stupid little brats and their idiot parents,” potential educational employers will most likely assume you have a rather sour attitude toward teaching and, no matter how well the job interview went, decide perhaps you are not the best candidate to hire for that open teaching position.  Would they want someone making these kind of comments representing their school district?

While likely rare, some employers have apparently gone so far as to demand access to online information. An interesting article by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz in the Chicago Tribune regarding the use of social media by employers states in part:

“Illinois is among a handful of states where it is unlawful for employers to demand access to an employee’s or job candidate’s social media profiles or request a password so they can gain access. But employers are within their right to view what is publicly available.”

Given all the above, I suggest you think of it this way: Your online presence is the other half of your resume.

Ok, so what should an applicant do to ensure their online presence helps rather than hurts their chances of landing their desired job?  Maybe cancel all social media accounts or really tighten up the privacy settings while job hunting?

No, eliminating your online presence altogether or tightening security so much that only the CIA can read your social media might actually make things worse!  Going to such extremes might suggest you are either trying to hide something really bad, or that you are simply not computer-savvy and lack social media knowledge or skills.  Also, having a positive online presence can reinforce the good attributes the employer may see in you, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that opportunity.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • First, do some research regarding how you appear online to others. Try using a public computer (such as at a library) to check out what others can see about you on their machines; you could do this from home, but be aware that cookies, cached/stored pages, or password apps on your machine might give you automatic access to things which others cannot see, and you want a realistic view of what actually shows up on their screens.
  • Clean out any posts or photos which you obviously would not want a potential employer to see.
  • If you have online friends who regularly make offensive-sounding posts, mark to see fewer posts from them or unfriend them altogether – at least for now.
  • Make sure any “About” information and profiles are up-to-date, professional-sounding, and – this is important – the information shown online matches whatever is on your resume.
  • While job hunting, be careful what you “Like” online.
  • Does information about you or pictures of you show up on the pages of others or on the website of any organizations? If these sites have uncomplimentary information about you, ask that it be removed.
  • Some search engines (such as Google) may remove content upon request, if it meets their policies for doing so. Check out the specific site to learn their removal process.  For example, here are Google’s policies regarding removal of content.
  • Do you have an account on LinkedIn? This website would be a great place to develop a professional online presence.  The free account is all you need to get started.
  • For extreme cases, organizations and individuals may wish to investigate using a professional online reputation repair service. Aside from the cost involved (hundreds to thousands of dollars), even these firms may not be able to completely eliminate everything.



Featured image courtesy of  Jason Howieflickr


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