Does Your Social Media Help or Hurt Your Job Search?

A smartphone laying on top of a computer keyboard. The phone screen shows icons for various social media apps.How’s your job search going?  Let’s see, got the required degree, training, and skills?  Check.  Have the required amount of work-related experience?  Check.  Does your social media online presence look good?  Uh… what?

If you haven’t thought about how your online presence looks, you may have a problem.  Could that be why employers aren’t beating down your door with invitations to interview or job offers?

Think about it.  All potential employers have to do is look on the internet, especially at social media sites, and they can learn a lot about you. Perhaps more than you want them to know.  Maybe some of it isn’t even really true.  They might think that what they see provides insight about you personally.  After all, perhaps your online posts reveal the kind of person you really are, your true attitudes about people and things.  And, maybe they don’t like what they see.

Even if you already interviewed and did quite well, they know you were on your best behavior.  But, they also know the “real you” will come out once you are hired and on the job.  Despite having seen an otherwise great applicant during the interview, they might now be a bit worried and unsure about you.

It’s All Online

Let’s look at a few social media sites you frequently visit and see what anyone can easily learn about you in only a few minutes.

OK, I see that you dropped the “f-bomb” in a few posts.  Here’s a picture of you partying a little too hard last weekend.  That joke you posted sounds rather racist.  Hmm, it looks like you hang with some pretty foul-mouthed, shady-looking people.  Maybe you’re like that, too.  Wow…  Here’s a post where you are really talking trash about your current employer.  Is this the real you?

Do They Really Check You Out?

Do employers really check out applicants on social media?  Yup.  All the time.

According to a national online survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2016 on behalf of CareerBuilder:

“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.”

Can They Do That?

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. Here are just a few:

According to the EEOC, here are some prohibited employment policies and practices:

“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.”

So What Does This Mean?

First, you need to know that I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice or guidance.  However, 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, suppose an employer notices on social medial that you are a member of a protected class, such as a minority, a certain nationality, over age 40, LGBT, etc.  Let’s say the employer then decides to not to hire you based solely on that information.  According to the EEOC prohibited practices excerpt above, such an action would appear to be a civil rights violation and blatantly illegal.

However, suppose you are a student teacher looking for a full-time teaching position.  Then, after a particularly bad week, you post on Facebook how you are “tired of dealing with all the stupid little brats and their idiot parents.”  What would potential employers who see this most likely think?  They might assume you have a rather sour attitude toward teaching and are unprofessional.  No matter how well the job interview went, this perceived insight into the “real you” might cause them to decide perhaps you are not the best candidate to hire.  Besides, would they want someone making these kinds of comments representing their school district?  What if a parent saw such a post?  Failing to hire you in this situation does not appear to violate the EEOC rules.

Some Employers May Go Even Further

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.”

So What Do I Do?

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 applicants do to ensure their online presence helps rather than hurts their chances of landing a job?  Should they cancel all social media accounts or really tighten up the privacy settings while job hunting?

No.  Eliminating your online presence altogether or tightening privacy such that only the CIA could view your social media might actually make things worse!  Going to such extremes could suggest you are trying to hide something really bad.  It might also suggest you are not computer-savvy and lack social media knowledge or skills.  Besides, having a positive online presence can reinforce the good attributes the employer may see in you.  You certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on that opportunity!

Social Media Suggestions

Here are a few ideas you might wish to consider:

  • Find out how you appear online to others.  Use a public computer (such as at a library) to check out what others can see about you.  Don’t do this from your personal device as cached/stored pages, cookies, or password apps may give you automatic access to things which others cannot see.  What you really want is a realistic view of what others can actually see about you on your social media.
  • Delete 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, click to see fewer posts from them or even unfriend them altogether – at least for now.
  • Make sure your “About” information and profile are up-to-date and professional-sounding.  Your online information must match whatever is on your resume.  If not, this could be a red flag to employers.
  • While job hunting, be careful what you “Like” or “Share” online.

General Online Suggestions

  • Google your name using various search engines.  Do any websites show pictures or information about you which is undesirable?  If so, ask that such material 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 content removal.
  • 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, you may wish to consider using a professional online reputation repair service. However, aside from the fact the cost involved might be hundreds or thousands of dollars, these firms may still not be able to completely remove everything.


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Featured image courtesy of Magicatwork – Flickr


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