Social media mistakes that are costing you the job

74% of employers will look you up on social media before hiring you. So before you post another ‘What kind of bread would you be?’ quiz, it’s time to career-proof your social accounts.

Update your privacy settings for professional connections

“If you want to keep your social media profiles personal, fine, but make sure your profile has the correct privacy settings. From holiday snaps, to your views on the latest Love Island, there’s a lot you may want to share socially, but not professionally,” advises Stephen Warnham, jobs expert at Totaljobs.

Twitter and Instagram can be set to private, or not private, but Facebook offers some nuances.

“[With Facebook,] you can set things to open or private to everyone except specific individuals. Very handy if you’d like to keep your professional and personal life separate,” says Warnham.

Use the Mum and Dad test

We heard from Divisional Manager Zoe Coy at recruitment agency, Macildowie : “The first thing we tell our clients is to run the ‘Mum and Dad’ test – if your parents wouldn’t be happy seeing the post, then neither will potential employers.”

“This doesn’t just concern your posts and pictures, it’s everything, especially check-ins as employers will look at where you have been recently – so try to keep it clean.”

This test may not be entirely reliable if your parents are rebellious outliers. In this case, substitute in a sensible, professional person instead.

Use social media to network

But the experts aren’t warning you off social media altogether. Gemma Dale, co-founder of The Work Consultancy and HR blogger says the number one mistake is not capitalising on social media opportunities.

“This would include failing to have a professional social media presence such as a LinkedIn profile, or having one that is empty or dormant,” she says.

“Sites like LinkedIn provide an excellent opportunity for personal branding, adding more information that can be submitted on a typical CV/application form and not doing so is a missed opportunity.”

A professional headshot, complete profile and up-to-date CV is essential, Dale says. 

Think of your ‘brand’

Freddie Chirgwin-Bell, Marketing Executive at Morgan Jones recruitment, says you need to think of yourself as a brand, like Pepsi or Cadbury’s.

“The importance of building a personal brand on LinkedIn has been talked about a lot but make sure that you are presenting yourself and your values in a manner that is attractive to the industry you are applying for,” he notes.

“You are, essentially, trying to sell yourself. So think of yourself as a commodity and a brand and build that on social media so that you become attractive to potential employers and respected in your field.”

A picture speaks a thousand words

Even if your social media is private, your profile photo will be visible. So when making your all-important choice, factor in that potential employers will see this photo. And it will stick in their minds.

James McDonagh, director of EMEA at Nigel Frank International recruitment, says: “If you find a candidate online and the image they’ve chosen to represent themselves is one surrounded by beers, it gives you a clear impression of them that can be difficult to shake.”

“When you sit down in the interview and they’re dressed smartly, eloquently telling you about how reliable they are… all you can see is that image of them on the bar floor missing a shoe.”

Stick to something neutral, McDonagh advises. “A photo in a professional setting or a headshot in front of a plain background works great for Twitter and LinkedIn.”

Avoid politics and consider separate accounts

“Always avoid posting anything controversial on politics or religion even if you think it’s a funny, off-the-cuff thought,” Coy advises. “Feel free to show your personality, especially if you’re lacking in the experience and hard skills departments as this can be a great way to secure a meeting, but one comment could jeopardise a potential interview.”

If you want to comment about politics and newsworthy items, consider making separate Twitter accounts for your professional and personal personas, Coy says.

“For your personal account, try to come up with a name that doesn’t directly point to you.”

Think twice before reaching out on social media

“Avoid reaching out to an interviewer through social media unless you’re offered the job,” McDonagh advises.

“I’ve been in interviews where we’ve built up a great rapport and the candidate made a really great impression, then they’ve immediately sent a friend request on Facebook afterwards and it’s given me serious reservations about them. It’s a bit presumptuous and may give an interviewer doubts about your professionalism.”

McDonagh, Director at Nigel Frank International Recruitment, is strongly against friend requests, but his opinion may not be shared by all. You may encounter an interviewer who thinks it’s very professional to follow-up your interview with a LinkedIn request to connect.

You’ll have to exercise your own discretion, but be aware that potential employers may have strong opinions on your actions.

In summary

Humans are nosey. And with social media ever-present, it’s very easy for potential employers to do some digging. Get proactive and take steps to clean up your online footprint. After all, when you’ve spent hours perfecting the tone of voice in your CV, the last thing you need is a thoughtless post from 5 years ago sabotaging your interview. Start off by adjusting your privacy settings and then schedule time to assess how your social media profiles really make you look.

Further reading on social media for professionals:

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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