Barely a week seems to pass without some high-profile instance of a social media gaffe costing someone their job – indeed, as we type, former PR executive Justine Sacco has been given her marching orders by her firm after ill-advised Twitter comments about Africa and AIDS.
But a lot of the time, doing and saying the wrong things on social media – or even your friends doing and saying the wrong things on social media – can put paid to your chances of being hired at all. It’s easy to think that it’s just something affecting young jobseekers in their 20s, with their embarrassing drunken nightclub photos, but in a recruitment world that has been considerably reshaped by social media, it’s actually a peril to all age groups, and for all levels of the workforce.
Yes, those who are just starting out can definitely be caught out by social media – something that seems funny and innocuous enough in your teens might not impress the 40-something or 50-something HR manager. But even senior executives have been known to come a cropper due to social media.
Here are some of the social media mistakes to avoid, whatever your age or career stage.
Don’t post inappropriate stuff
Employers often check the social media profiles of potential recruits to get an insight into their personality, which in turn tells them much about that person’s suitability for the company and position.
LinkedIn profiles are entirely geared to professionalism, of course, but on Facebook, Twitter and similar general social media sites, the line between personal and professional can be somewhat blurred. Just imagine the impression that an employer is going to have if your profile photo features you lying drunk on the pavement, or even if your friend shares such a photo on your Facebook wall. You aren’t massively likely to get hired.
What we’ve mentioned above highlights that other people can also be responsible for inappropriate content that can harm your chances, whether in the form of photos, posts or comments. Aside from trying to avoid being photographed in a compromising position, it’s also a good idea not to share such content, while other social media users create separate ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ profiles. Or you could just set certain personal profiles to ‘private’.
Be careful what you say – or allow others to say
As the aforementioned Ms Sacco found out the hard way, a mere social media comment, if sufficiently ill-judged, can be enough to ruin a career. Of course, the usual inoffensive bread-and-butter Facebook comments aren’t worth getting paranoid about, but there are definitely certain subjects – such as race, gender or religion – where there is massive potential to compromise your job chances.
Social media pages and groups are all about comments and discussions, of course, and these can be very rewarding and engaging, in addition to bring you valuable connections and boosting your professional standing. It’s great to be passionate about something, too – employers love enthusiasm, drive and commitment – but those same prospective employers can be alienated if the views that you express are overly strong, one-sided or biased.
If you aren’t careful, it’s all too easy to be slanderous, ignorant, unethical or just plain rude, and it can be enough to ruin your job chances on the spot. Our advice, then, is to always keep things strictly professional. Keep an eye on some of those misbehaving friends, too, and be sure to delete any comments that stray over the line, as employers may judge you by association.
Complete your profiles with engaging content
If you want a strong professional brand that attracts employers, then you really ought to keep your social media profiles up to date, particularly more professionally-oriented ones like LinkedIn.
With so many employers and recruiters checking your social media profiles, not only to get a sense of who you are but also potentially to connect with you, what impression do you think a half-completed profile, or one that hasn’t been updated for a year or so, gives them? It probably leaves them thinking that you don’t think your social media presence is important, or that you’re the kind of person who starts tasks without finishing them.
But the actual content that you put on your social media profiles is also pretty important. As a conscientious jobseeker, you would probably spend hour after hour fine-tuning your CV, and your social media profiles are very much alternative CVs these days, so many of the same rules apply. That means that your content should read well, engage the reader and provide high quality and relevant information, without any discrepancies.
You may be good at providing a lot of content, but it can be the small things – also including the likes of grammatical errors and misspellings – that undo you, creating the impression in the minds of employers that you take a sloppy approach to your work and lack attention to detail.
Avoid badmouthing past, current or future employers
It’s understandable that you may wish to vent after your co-worker or boss got on your nerves this week, but our advice on this one is very simple: never, ever, ever, ever, ever do so online, and definitely don’t do it on a social media site. You might have thought this to be obvious advice, but you’d be amazed how many people still make the mistake – even doing it for current employers!
Don’t make any negative comment about your colleagues or your company in general. It firmly indicates to a potential or current employer that you don’t have much integrity or professionalism and have little respect for those around you. It’s just bad form all round.
So, if you do need to let off steam about a boss or co-worker, do it on your own, or share it in confidence with a person you trust. Keep it well away from Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t be ‘needy’
There’s a certain type of person who we all know… the person who’s nice enough and works hard, but who only ever seems to think about himself or his own interests. He’s constantly trying to get you to ‘like’ the Facebook page for his band, follow his Twitter page, buy his artwork or just hire him to help him out. You can barely resist blocking him.
Even worse is if this sounds like a description of you. Thankfully, there are a few things that you can do to reset the balance and make yourself more appealing to prospective hirers. These include accepting that social media is a two-way communication medium, and that it isn’t all just about selling your jewellery or getting that job – it’s also about talking to and taking a genuine interest in others.
Don’t obsessively pitch, sell or plead. Don’t force your friends, family and colleagues to constantly ‘like’, follow and share stuff of yours on social media. Help out others. Express an interest in other people’s events. Retweet and blog other people’s content and add your own insights. You’ll be amazed by how much more marketable you become.
Social media errors have real consequences
Do you need any more persuading of the damage that the above social media errors can cause? Just look at some of the statistics. A study by market analysts On Device Research revealed that one in 10 jobseekers aged between 16 and 34 could blame their social media profiles for missing a job opportunity.
Meanwhile, it was revealed by the social media monitoring service Reppler’s survey of 300 people with hiring responsibility at their companies that social networking sites were used for the purpose of screening prospective employees by 91 per cent of respondents. About 69 per cent had rejected candidates on the basis of their social media profiles.
And yet… 70 per cent of the young Americans polled by On Device Research said that the prospect of their social media use harming their job prospects did not concern them. Two thirds would not be deterred from using social media due to the possibility of an adverse impact on their future career.
So… the evidence is clear of the damage that a social media faux pas or seven can cause to job seekers young and old, and yet, the warning isn’t always heeded. Don’t be one of those who fall into the trap – make sure your social media presence is a good one.