How social media can kill your chances of getting the job

This is the second in the series of articles I wrote last year for - enjoy!

How social media can kill your chances of getting the job

In today’s hyperconnected digital world, just about everyone is into social media in some way. Most people have multiple profiles across an array of platforms, and it seems that no matter where you go or what you do, it eventually ends up online somewhere. In the context of the job search, how you present yourself through social media can significantly influence whether or not you land your dream job.

Recruiters do use social media to screen applicants

Have no doubt, if you have applied for a job recently, there is a high likelihood that your prospective employer has done some digging through your various social media profiles. A 2011 study by Reppler found that a staggering 91% of the 300 employers interviewed used social media to screen applicants during the recruitment process. So for the jobseeker, careful management of your social media presence is critical if you don’t want your private life to jeopardise your chances of success.

Social media gives a prospective employer an opportunity to build a more comprehensive picture of an applicant beyond the highly curated limits of the résumé. They can gain insights into a person’s personality, gauge whether an applicant would be a good fit for both the position and the organisation, and check the veracity of the application itself.

What you should avoid

There are a few common social media pitfalls that can catch out the unsuspecting job hunter. They include:

1.     Badmouthing a current or former employer – So you’ve had a disagreement with your boss, or you’re holding a grudge against a former employer. Think carefully about whether you want to publicise this via your Facebook status. A prospective employer will see this kind of act as disloyal and potentially damaging. If they hire you, what’s to stop you doing it to them sometime in the future? Out comes the red pen.

2.     Explicit material, coarse language or acts of an illegal nature – Status updates littered with explicit statements or images and profanities will definitely be seen in a bad light by recruiters. It immediately puts you at a disadvantage because it could be seen as a lack of judgement and/or discretion on your part. Similarly, publicising acts of an illegal nature are a big no-no. Let’s face it, there’s a certain proportion of the population who like to imbibe certain ‘recreational’ substances on occasion, and you might fit this description. Even if it doesn’t impair your ability to do your job, when you’re looking for work, broadcasting your vices via social media is a fast track to unemployability. Red pen…

3.     Getting caught out in a lie – This applies to current, as well as prospective employers. You’ve had a big night out and call in sick with ‘gastro’, but then proceed to describe your hangover to your social media networks. There’s a good chance that the lie will eventually be exposed and you will find that your employment status has suddenly been compromised. Red…you get the idea.

Using social media strategically in the job hunt

Despite the pitfalls, social media can actually be a powerful tool for the job hunter. If carefully managed, you can use your various profiles to promote yourself as a hardworking, responsible and reliable individual, while keeping your inner ratbag tightly under wraps.

Settings are your ally

Privacy settings are key to impression management when it comes to social media. Make sure that you have a tight control over who can see your posts, photos, status updates etc. Also have your settings adjusted so that any images you are tagged in need your approval before going into the public domain. Put your self in the shoes of the recruiter. Now imagine how you would react if you Googled a prospective employee, only to find them tagged in a photo of a cupcake shaped like a penis. Where’s that red pen?

Different strokes for different folks

Use different social media platforms for different purposes, and adjust your access settings accordingly. For example, you could reserve Facebook for interaction with friends and family, and make sure that only these people have access to your profile, whereas Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest profiles could be deliberately set for a wider audience. If you do have Facebook friends among your work colleagues, adjusting the level of access individually is a safe option and limits the risk of anything compromising being seen by the wrong eyes.

Be a discerning friend

Use discretion when adding ‘friends’. If you’re worried about what’s going out into the public domain, don’t go around accepting everyone’s friend request. You can control your own status updates, but not those of your friends and acquaintances. A recruiter doesn’t know you personally, so if they are trying to gain insight into your character, there is a good chance that they will check out your interactions on social media.

In conclusion

Social media is a powerful tool and can, if used wisely, be of great benefit to the job seeker. Always be aware that if you apply for a job, there is a very good chance that whoever is doing the recruiting could end up being a part of your audience. The fundamental take-home message is that if you are using social media, be mindful of what you are posting, why you are posting it, and who might see it.