Is your social media presence jeopardizing your job search? Find out if you’re making these all too common mistakes. 

Remember Justine Sacco? You probably don’t know her name, but you may remember how in December 2013, a shocking tweet turned Justine into a social media cautionary tale. On a layover in London en route to visit family in South Africa for the holidays, Justine tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Justine had just 170 Twitter followers and assumed no one would even see her message, which she later claimed she wrote in jest. When she landed 11 hours later in Cape Town, her phone exploded with messages from friends and strangers alike. It was the tweet heard round the world. As furor over her bigotry and extreme insensitivity to those living with HIV/AIDS grew, so too did the outrage that her job – head of communications for IAC – revolved entirely around communicating with reporters. Of all people, Justine should have known better. Suffice it to say that after the grossly inappropriate tweet went viral, Justine was without a job.

While Justine’s controversial tweet may be an extreme example, it’s an important reminder that a casual, flippant comment on social media is never without consequences.

In a world dominated by over-sharing and over-exposure, we’ve become conditioned to tweeting without thinking. Even if you’re less active on social media today than you were a few years ago, a former lack of social media discretion can still come back to haunt you when job hunting.

As an executive recruiter, I’ve seen candidates passed over for positions due to a Twitter or Instagram faux pas. Many never even realize it’s their social media activity that cost them the job.

Is your social media activity helping or hurting your job search? Watch out for these common mistakes:

1. Inappropriate profile pictures and usernames

You should periodically check the privacy settings on your social media accounts to make sure you know who has access to what. However, on certain social media outlets, even the strictest settings won’t prevent an employer from pulling up your profile picture and username through an internet search.

Changing your profile pictures and username is the first step toward preparing your social media for job search efforts. While your name and picture don’t need to be LinkedIn-ready, they should be appropriate for a hiring manager to view. This goes for past profile pictures too, which can still be public on social media.

2. Remove and avoid all inappropriate posts

Every few weeks, there’s a new story about someone who lost a job, endorsement or even a beauty pageant title because of an ill-considered post on social media. Yet despite these high-profile cautionary tales, job applicants everywhere continue to make similar mistakes.

Before you begin a job search, review your visible posts to ensure that you’re comfortable with a potential employer seeing them. And don’t just consider your old spring break photos. I’ve seen heated political posts that cross the line and become offensive, potentially hurting a candidate’s chance of getting a job.

Going forward, avoid making inappropriate posts by maintaining the mindset that current and future employers could check in on your social media posts anytime. If it’s not something you’d say directly to your supervisor’s face, don’t post it. Period.

3. Don’t misrepresent work history on LinkedIn

If you’ve been unemployed or laid off for an extended period of time, you may think it’s smart to avoid listing an end date for your previous position. That’s a huge red flag.

Even if you mean well, misrepresenting your employment on LinkedIn can backfire. I once worked with a candidate whose LinkedIn profile showed that he was still working for a company from which he had been fired six months earlier. A potential employer didn’t have a problem with the candidate losing his job, but was troubled by the lack of honesty, and declined to make the hire.

While it may seem counterintuitive, it can actually be helpful to use LinkedIn to mark a current gap of employment. Taking this action alerts hiring managers and recruiters that you’re in the market for a new position.
What else do you take into account when it comes to social media and job search concerns? Have you seen any social media posts that may have caused professional damage? Let us know in the comments.

By the way, Justine’s story does have a happy ending. You can find more information on the resolution of her PR scandal here.


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