Career Coaching, Job Search

Using Social Media to Help—and Not Hurt—Your Job Search

woman working on a laptop
By Laura Quaglio (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

When Barack Obama spoke at the 2016 Commencement at Rutgers University, he encouraged the new graduates to stand up for their beliefs. “If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong. Engage it. Debate it. Stand up for what you believe in,” he said. What he didn’t say (but might want to add today) is how important it is to be careful what you tweet, post, or comment on social media. Choosing your words, images, and shares carefully can make or break your success during a job search.

Consider this: In a recent study of 505 employers, The Manifest (a business news website) found that 98 percent use the internet to do background research on candidates, 90 percent said that social media accounts are a factor in hiring decisions, and 79 percent have put a resume on the “no” pile due to problems with social media content.

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to transform your social media presence and enhance it for the long term—almost like an episode of The Home Edit, but instead of reorganizing your living space you’re bringing order to your digital footprint. With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts for cleaning up your social media feed.

Google all the names you’ve ever used

When you Google yourself, do it on someone else’s computer, so you’ll see what a recruiter would. Don’t just look for you-related listings and links that are inappropriate, advises BrandYourself in The Definitive Guide to Personal Branding. Even irrelevant items can muddy the waters for hiring officers who have a slew of people to search.

In addition to unpublishing or deleting meh materials, you can update your LinkedIn profile to improve your search engine optimization (aka SEO). A few tricks from The Manifest: Make sure your first and last names are in your URL and fill in important fields like Location and Company. 

Update your feeds as you evolve

“You may not be the same person today that you were some years ago,” best-selling author and branding guru Jon Michail told Forbes in an article titled “Five Ways You Could Be Devaluing Your Personal Brand.” “Make sure the content you post is congruent with your values and beliefs.” What’s more, remove anything that’s not. Rutgers Career Exploration and Success also suggests that you look at what and who you are following (on each platform) and what your profile info says about your likes and interests. 

Accentuate the positive—eliminate the negative

Though this year has been incredibly challenging for most of us, Michail suggests limiting negative content on social media. Of course, having a “negatude” is different from sharing a post on how you overcame a challenge. As with news media, the secret is in spinning your message to portray yourself as a hero and not a victim. Consider what’s important to you in a workplace, too. If you’d be happiest in a company that’s driven by a higher purpose, sharing posts about your community service may get you in the door (so to speak).

Make personal info private—but don’t be a ghost

While it may be tempting to make all accounts private, hiding yourself can make you seem shady. (A 2017 CareerBuilder survey reported that 57 percent of employers are much less likely to hire a “ghost.”)

Some experts suggest creating a separate “professional account” for your favorite platforms. Or choose one platform to be your “friends and family” space, then use the settings to make it as private as possible. Turn off facial recognition and location services, too. (Do this on your desktop: Some settings can’t be tweaked using the app.) Not-so-fun fact: Instagram has fewer privacy controls than its parent company, Facebook. If you post there, use Instagram Stories, which automatically disappear in a day.

Consider enlisting tech tools (or a pro)

If all of this sounds exhausting—or time consuming—that’s because it can be. Fortunately, there are apps that can help, such as TweetDelete and Jumbo. There are also companies that can do the cleanup for you—and others that will build you a personal website to really make you shine.

Remember that social interaction is the real goal

Recently, Obama spoke at a conference hosted by the developer platform Twilio, where he called out the Internet for its role in fostering divisiveness, but also offered some encouraging words that may help reframe your interactions.

“The virtual world works best when it translates into action and activity and conversation and face-to-face interactions in the real world. That forces you to see people in their complexity.”

(That’s true even when those meetups happen on Zoom.) 

Social Media Edits to Help Your Prospects

Your social media profiles can also help convince employers you’d be a good fit. Here are a few qualities that can help give you an edge when recruiters scout you out:

  • Great communication skills (Did you check spelling and grammar?)
  • A professional image (How old is your LinkedIn photo?)
  • Displays of creative thinking (What hobbies, interests, or projects showcase this?)