What to delete from social media before you start job hunting

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
Image: Reuters/Michael Dalder
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Social media is an indispensable part of the college experience, with Facebook and other platforms making it easy to communicate, plan events, and share photos. Needless to say, not everything that students post on social media looks great to recruiters when applying for jobs. This applies to all job seekers, but perhaps most pertinently to young graduates, who find that social media suddenly encompasses both their personal and professional lives.

“First impressions happen in the blink of an eye, and many are now taking place on social media, before you even step foot inside an interview,” says Blair Decembrele, a career expert at LinkedIn. “Social posts give employers a glimpse of who you are outside of a résumé or cover letter, which can be a good thing—or bad—depending on what your online persona says about you.”

Sometimes, what looks like harmless fun to students can do serious harm to job prospects after graduation. To a hiring manager, a champagne shower to celebrate the end of final exams could suggest binge drinking, and a casual smoke may portend illegal drug usage. Almost one-fifth (17%) of US interviewers have eliminated a candidate from consideration because of inappropriate photos posted online, says Decembrele.

Where to draw the line

While they’re not explicitly codified, the rules for playing the part a young professional can seem stifling—especially after wearing sweatpants to class for four years. Without knowing the biases of an individual hiring manager, some simple fixes can at least avoid the most common types of content that raise red flags:

  • Photos with alcohol, drugs, and weapons
  • Discriminatory or vulgar language
  • Bad-mouthing of former employers
  • Political extremism

“Even if you’re of legal drinking age, a picture with alcohol isn’t going to make the best impression, so it’s best to avoid,” says Decembrele. When it comes to politics, she says, “incessant political posting could be a turnoff, especially if your posts get heated.”

While it might be tempting to forgo social media altogether, that has pitfalls, too. “It may look as if you have something to hide,” she warns. Decembrele suggests creating boundaries between your professional and personal lives. For instance, you could make your Twitter profile public while implementing strict privacy settings for your Facebook account.

When in doubt, delete

“Generally a good rule of thumb is: if you don’t want your mom to see it, then maybe don’t post it,” says Kristen Ribero, head of employer marketing at Handshake, a career network for college students and recent grads. “The key thing to note is that you don’t want to draw attention away from what really matters: your expertise and why you’d be a great candidate for said position.”

Finding ways to highlight relevant experience and qualifications is a given, but sharing information about passions and hobbies can also be helpful. Making personal accounts private reduces the risk of less relevant, but possibly disqualifying, content surfacing when a recruiter searches for information about a candidate online.

Getting disqualified from a job because of something a hiring manager sees on social media may seem unfair, but recruiters want employees who will “proudly represent the company on and off the clock,” Ribero notes. So after fretting over cover letters and resumes, spending a few minutes to get your digital life in order is a small action with a potentially big payoff.