If you were asked to describe your college experience at a job interview, you wouldn’t tell the hiring manager you lived for the weekends and were pretty much known as a party animal on campus, would you? Of course not—just like you know better than to put your contact email on your resume under the alias Baccardimami18. But if you’ve been posting pics from that wild night you had last weekend on your public-facing social media, you might be giving potential employers the wrong impression anyway.
Everything is on the record
Millennials who grew up with social media have been creating a long record of life events. But as this generation enters the workforce, they are facing a new issue their predecessors never had to deal with. People may have access to every juvenile thought you ever put out into the world, from the age of 13 on. If you have ever made an unsavory comment online or posted a risqué pic of yourself, your future employers can someday find it and see it as a red flag.
Most of the time we think of social media as an extension of our social lives. From the amazing view of a hike you took, to telling the world you got engaged, you share an aspect of yourself with your friends and maybe reach beyond to friends of friends. But before you post that next evening out, keep in mind that social media is increasingly being used by employers in job searches and even to keep tabs on current employees. Organizations not only use social media for targeted advertising, but also as a way to weed out job candidates from their pool of applicants. If you’re taking too many drunken party pics, you may be starting off on the wrong foot with potential employers.
Be your own watchdog (and cheerleader)
So what can you do now?
First, Google yourself. Often. It’s a good idea to be aware of your internet presence and what information is available to the public. What is the sense that someone gets just by reading your tweets or following your Instagram feed? Are you sharing your passion? Writing angry rants? Is the internet displaying your best or your worst?
Your online presence is a reflection of you—even if it only shows a small part of who you are as a whole. Sometimes it can help to show your qualifications, your media savviness, and even your interest in a certain company where you’re seeking employment. These are positive things employers could find while doing background checks. But if you have an online presence full of red flags, you can’t really scrub the internet.
Instead, start building up those positives. Next time you post, remember you may be speaking to a wider audience than just close friends. And while you can’t scrub the internet of every bad thing you ever did, you can start to improve your posting habits and create a stellar view of yourself to the world. If the wrong material shows on page one of Google, develop a professional personal website to try to push those bad results down the page.
Next step: make sure your communications and information you provide a prospective employer match. The ease of the internet makes fact-checking much easier and padding your resume too much becomes riskier. Win any awards lately? It’s probably verifiable online.
Don’t live your whole life online
Lastly, are you posting too much? Too little? If you’re obsessed with social media and post too often, this can also be a red flag. Try to unplug once in a while. But the opposite can also be a problem. What if you’re not on social media at all, or hate those LinkedIn invites so much you never built a profile? Maybe a hiring manager won’t see any embarrassing college moments, but not having any information about you may be hurting you too. If employers are using sites to screen candidates, you may just be weeded out automatically if there’s nothing about you on the web.
The solution is to control what other people see of you: craft a professional, high-Google-rank web presence that puts your best foot forward. The impression you make to employers doesn’t just happen at the interview. Whether or not you’re on the job market, think before you link, comment, tweet, or post.