insight magazine

Is Social Media Ruining Your Career?

It's not always just innocent fun. Here's what not to do on social media. By Derrick Lilly | Digital Exclusive - 2017

Social Media

Social networking, by all accounts, should make your career search easier. You’re able to instantly connect with employers, employees, recruiters, HR leaders, peers and pundits. Virtually effortlessly, you can learn the ins and outs of those organizations that interest you most. With a few quick clicks you can send off your résumé, LinkedIn profile, personal website and more to the masses and expand the reaches of your personal social media “brand.”

But what happens if you’re using social media in all the wrong ways? What happens if that emotional or political rant you posted for your “friends” to see shows up in the newsfeed of, say, your current or prospective employer?

“Your social media presence—and, really, your whole digital footprint—is no longer just an extension of your résumé. It’s as important as your résumé,” opines Patrick Gillooly in The New York Times. “Social media use is now a standard of the hiring process, and there’s little chance of going back.”

In fact, 96 percent of recruiters and companies use social media to vet candidates according to the 2016 Recruiter Nation survey by Jobvite, which also points out that 55 percent of recruiters have had to reconsider candidates based on what was found on their social media profiles. Some of their top turn-offs? Illegal drug references, sexual posts, poor spelling/grammar, profanity, and posts about guns and alcohol consumption.

“The first rule for any individual: You should always assume what you share on the Internet is public. Period. The end,” Courtney Shelton Hunt, Ph.D., tells SHRM Online.

“In a competitive job market, employers demand—and get—the very best of the best candidates who have squeaky clean online footprints. Therefore, you must be diligent in building and safeguarding your online reputation,” Meg Guiseppi adds in an interview for SHRM.

Which Social Networks Matter Most to Employers?

92% - LinkedIn

66% - Facebook

52% - Twitter

21% - Google+

15% - YouTube

Source: Jobvite

It’s not only job seekers who should mind their social media missteps, however; current employees also have a lot to lose—including their credibility and their jobs.

Take Pamela Ramsey Taylor, the now former director of nonprofit Clay County Development Corp. in West Virginia. Taylor lost her job after referring to Michelle Obama as an “ape in heels” in a politically charged Facebook post in November. While the post was deleted, screenshots already were taken and shared widely on social media, drawing increased scrutiny of both Ramsey Taylor and the organization she worked for.

And then there’s the case of Kaitlyn Walls of Colony, Texas, who, a little over a year ago, managed to lose her new daycare job before she even started it after venting on Facebook that, of all things, she hates working at daycares!

So what are we to do? If you want social media to work for you instead of against you, experts from around the Web advise avoiding these six gaffes:

1. Posting incriminating photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Excessive partying, illegal substances and overtly sexual or offensive photos can damage your credibility and employability. “In college, getting drunk is rewarded. But when you’re in a workplace, there are different consequences,” Michael Ball, founder of Career Freshman, told NBC News.

2. Posting when you should be working

It’s common sense, but if you called in sick, you shouldn’t be posting pictures of your walk with the dogs. What’s more, using social media during the workday could reflect poorly on you as an employee. “Are you blogging or Facebooking during work hours when you shouldn’t be? Your boss or a vindictive, catty co-worker can easily catch on, landing you a warning or a meeting with the HR department,” says CEO and co-founder of in CIO.

3. Complaining about your job

Unhappy with a colleague, client, manager or the company? It’s best to vent in a private domain. “Be very careful what you write,” Kathleen Lucas, labor and employment attorney at Lucas Law Firm in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Not only can there be consequences, you can really create a problem in your workplace.”

4. Bullying, trolling and making offensive comments

You can forget about anonymity on the Web, and you should expect to be outed pretty quickly for engaging in such activities. As noted earlier, posting inflammatory or controversial content is a quick route to a pink slip, especially when you consider that employers “are required by law to maintain a diverse and respectful workplace,” says Nicholas Woodfield, an attorney with The Employment Law Group in Washington, D.C., in an interview with the Associated Press.

5. Sharing confidential information

Accidentally outing your company’s secrets can be as easy as posting an update about your disappointment with a deal, project or promotion that fell through. “Often employees don’t recognize the crossover between their professional and personal worlds and the ways that seemingly personal updates can reveal business information,” notes corporate law magazine Inside Counsel.

6. Broadcasting your job search

Strategically using social media to find job opportunities and blatantly broadcasting your need to escape your current employer are entirely different things. If you plan to make extensive updates to your LinkedIn profile and connect with recruiters via this platform, for instance, consider turning off your status updates to avoid having your current employer being the wiser.

The moral of the story: “You need to realize that social media wields great power: What you say there — including saying nothing at all — has an effect on your network or on the employer who is checking out your Instagram account,” says Gillooly. “But remember that you control what people see. By being more judicious about what you share or by altering the platform settings where possible, you can manage your digital trail to increase the odds that a potential employer will form a positive impression of you.”