“Smile!” your friend says, as she snaps a picture of you, beer in hand. Before you know it, it’s posted on Facebook, you’re tagged in it, and it’s received dozens of likes and comments. You instantly make it your profile picture. The next morning, as you get ready for your job interview, you suddenly remember that picture. Your choice to post it, which seemed so harmless the night before, now causes a surge of panic as you realize it could cost you a job.
Aside from the fact that going for drinks the night before a big job interview is not a great idea, there’s a lot to be learned from this anonymous job seeker’s “Aha! moment” (thanks, Oprah). Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Quora, YouTube, Medium, Twitter, or any number of other professional and social media platforms, if you’re serious about getting a job (or even keeping the one you have), it’s a smart idea to conduct a “social media checklist” of sorts. After all, an estimated 70 percent of employers are researching candidates’ social media accounts, and 57 percent are finding content that keeps them from hiring candidates. Sobering, isn’t it?
This isn’t to say that social media doesn’t have its benefits. Networking, keeping on top of industry events, and getting your unique voice and expertise out into the world can be key to finding your next job and building your professional brand—and using social media to catch up with family and friends can keep you sane in the process.
When it comes to your professional reputation and job prospects, however, it’s important to take a hard look at where your social media activities are benefiting you, and where they may be causing you harm.
Consider these 5 steps to hire-proof your social media:
1. Make an exhaustive inventory of your social media accounts.
It’s easy to forget where you have a social footprint online, especially when you may have abandoned some of the accounts long ago (oh hey, MySpace). Unfortunately, the Internet never forgets, so Google algorithms may still be leading potential employer searches of you to your old soul-baring Tumblr, or your Instagram account filled with cringe-worthy college moments.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Make a list of all the places you’re sure you have an account, then add the places you think you
might have one (Wikipedia can come in handy for this).
Google your own name, as well as potential usernames you’ve used in the past, and see what kind of results pop up.
Search the word “account” and “username” in your email inbox to see if any old gems appear. You may be surprised by what you find—and you may decide you have a few lingering accounts to delete.
2. Do a complete sweep.
After taking a full account of where you exist online, it’s time to clean house.
Log in to accounts you have decided to deactivate or delete, and remove personal data wherever possible.
Completely close accounts where you have the ability to do so.
Disconnect accounts so that you’re not using single sign-on methods. We now know, for example, that third-party tracking scripts have the ability to get information from Facebook’s API without users ever knowing.
3. Choose your social media presence wisely.
The popular saying isn’t“quantity over quality”—and for good reason.By only maintaining an online presence where you get the most value, you’re setting yourself up for success by cutting out a lot of distraction and unnecessary content in your life (and, ahem, making more time to send all those job applications! Love, Mom). And by employing the “less is more” concept, you’re able to spend the necessary time and attention on making yourself shine on the platforms you choose to use.
Heavy use of social media has also been linked to anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Jelena Kecmanovic, adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University, writes about ways that people can protect themselves from the dangers of social media. Her tips include approaching it mindfully, limiting usage, and employing “detox” periods. Seems like common-sense advice, right?
Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism,says the key to technology is to “use it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you.” Social media platforms are designed to be as addictive to users as possible, he argues, and this can be quite detrimental to our lives and our mental health. Instead of giving all of our attention—and data—to social media platforms, we can make the choice to be more selective in our social media use.
In short, streamlining your use of social media appears to be good for both your professional life and your mental health. Watch Newport’s TED Talk about social media here.
4. Hit the reset button.
Now that you’ve determined where you don’t want to be, take some time to optimize the social accounts you are on. Think of it as a “performance upgrade” or tune-up for your online life. Start by taking a professional picture, or choose one you already have that represents you well.
Look at your accounts through a potential employer’s eyes and ask:
What would they see?
How are you presenting yourself?
Would you hire you?
If the answer to any of these questions makes you want to hide in a dark, Internet-less corner, it’s time to put on your “hiring manager hat” and edit your profiles through the perspective of someone who holds your hiring fate in their hands. Clean up old content you don’t want hanging around, and write a new bio you can modify for your various accounts. The key is to strike the right balance of professionalism and personality.
For the accounts you’re actively using, start seeking out professional groups in your field to which you can contribute. You can find industry-specific groups and curated lists on many sites, including ones you’re likely already on, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Think outside the proverbial box, and make the tools you’re using work to your benefit. If you’re a creative professional, for example, you can use Instagram hashtags to show off your work or ideas and turn your profile into a mini-portfolio. Follow relevant industry hashtags on Twitter, and start participating in live industry chats. Not only will you learn and network, but you’ll also fill your Twitter feed with your interesting thoughts and feedback.
5. Schedule “maintenance checks.”
Just as you schedule maintenance checks for your car, your health, or your home, it’s a good idea to take care of your social media in the same way. You’ve determined what’s most important to you in presenting yourself professionally, so now it’s time to schedule your periodic “checks” to ensure that as life changes, your public information is still accurately and authentically you. If you change jobs, add a new certification, or attend a relevant conference, for example, your scheduled check-in will give you the time and space to make those updates.
This process can be as simple as adding a recurring monthly reminder to your phone calendar (or other preferred method of date organization) called “Review my social media accounts.” You may find that once you complete your initial “tune-up,” you want a reminder more or less frequently, and you can adjust as needed.
By caring for your online presence and updating as necessary, you won’t worry when you’re job hunting or dreading a major social overhaul. You’ll already be on top of it and putting your best self forward. Your personal Snapchat drama, on the other hand? That may require more than an Aha! moment.
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