Updated November 2023. Originally written by Kimberly Gohringer.
Let’s face it, in the digital age, your social media footprint is like your second resume. And just as your real resume needs to be spotless, your online presence should be free of those pesky social media red flags that can send an employer running for the hills. Whether you’re a digital nomad or a home-office hero, knowing these nine social media red flags is crucial in today’s job market.
Imagine this: You’ve found the perfect remote job, you’ve fine-tuned your resume, and you’re ready to send it off. But wait! Before you do, there’s a digital shadow you might need to clean up. Employers aren’t just looking at your qualifications; they’re peeking into your virtual window — your social media profiles. And what they see there can be just as important as your professional experience.
So, what are the blunders you need to avoid? From that tweet you thought was funny at 2 a.m. to a photo that was meant to be a joke, let’s look at the social media mistakes that could put your job prospects on thin ice.
Top 9 Social Media Red Flags
It can be easy to forget you leave an online footprint with every picture you post and every status you make, especially since seventy percent of employers turn to social media to screen potential hirees, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder study.
Even though the majority of employers are looking to social media to help make their hiring decisions and form their opinions on applicants, too many job applicants continue to use bad judgment on their social media profiles.
However, there are steps you can take to ensure that your online presence plays a positive role in your professional life. Here’s a list of nine major social media red flags and how you can avoid them.
1. Posting Inappropriate Material
Would your grandmother blush at your online content? If you’d be embarrassed to have your family view any particular status or photo, then you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see it either.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to prevent this social media red flag. If you’re unsure if there’s any incriminating material online that could be linked back to you, Google yourself and delete said incriminating material from your social media accounts.
You should also be aware of inappropriate statuses and photos in which your friends may have tagged you. If you come across a picture you’ve been tagged in that was taken at a party or discover a questionable post about a night out with friends, you should ask (or beg) the friend to remove the material from their profile.
In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers can fire you for comments you’ve made on social media, even if those comments don’t directly relate to your job or coworkers. You can share your thoughts and opinions online, but try to make sure you avoid angrily or passionately ranting about hot-button topics like politics and religion, or engaging in other people’s posts if an argument has already begun. Posts that were not originally meant to be hostile can be easily misunderstood, and misinterpretations nearly always result in conflict.
Tweaking your privacy settings on your social media profiles so that only an approved list of people can see what you’ve published is great, but this doesn’t eliminate the threat of screenshots.
So before you click that post button, ensure you proof what you’ve typed and search your inner self about whether gaining a few dozen likes or comments on a controversial rant post is really worth it. Pausing before you post will minimize future regrets and prevent you from stepping on your own professional toes.
3. Lacking Distinction Between Your Personal and Professional Lives
It’s difficult in our constantly growing, tech-connected world to create proper boundaries between our work lives and our personal lives, but it’s important to make this distinction, especially where social media is concerned.
One solution is to separate your work and personal social media accounts. Keep your profile pictures appropriate on all profiles, and make sure you’re reading the fine print when it comes to privacy settings. Steer your friends away from your work profiles, and talk to your friends about what you are and are not comfortable being tagged in on your personal page.
4. Poor Spelling and Grammar
One of the biggest social media red flags employers look for is the use of improper grammar and spelling. About thirty percent of candidates make their social media profiles undesirable because of spelling, grammar, or other communication errors, according to Talent Management and HR.
Using texting lingo or not knowing the difference between your and you’re can suggest that you’re careless or uneducated. Hiring managers may see this as a reflection of how you would perform in routine on-the-job tasks or in more critical scenarios with a client.
5. Lying about Qualifications
When applying to jobs, assume hiring managers will use social media to verify your qualifications before reaching out for an initial interview. You’re asking for trouble if you boast about professional achievements on social media that you cannot support with qualifications on your resume. By looking at your online profiles, recruiters and employers can verify things like your education history and work experience, all the while getting a better understanding of your personality and interests.
6. Absence of a Social Media Presence
Over 2.95 billion people are active on Facebook each month, therefore a glaring absence from the world of social media is a big red flag to many recruiters and employers.
When an employer looks at your resume they’re only getting a basic overview of your experience and qualifications. During the hiring process, social media is useful for filling in those gaps. Employers can browse social media profiles for evidence that candidates are making developments within their industries and engaging with other professionals in their respective fields.
If you don’t want to use social media for personal reasons, or simply for the sake of privacy, at least consider creating a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is a valuable professional platform for personal branding. The site allows you to connect with a company you’re interested in working for on a more direct level, and human resource managers and recruiters consistently use LinkedIn when searching for potential new hires.
Since your LinkedIn profile will populate as one of the top Google search results of your name, ensure you’ve customized and updated your profile to include your most recent job experience, qualifications, and accolades.
7. Posting Derogatory Comments
In a 2015 survey, CareerBuilder found that among 2,000 employers who used social media to vet candidates, 29% of applicants had been rejected because they posted discriminatory comments online related to race, religion, or gender.
Avoid, at all costs, social media posts that target any person or group. In addition to being morally and ethnically indefensible, posts like these will almost certainly cost you a job offer.
Hiring someone who is bigoted, aggressively opinionated, or without a filter can be a huge risk for any company. This social media red flag extends to the types of pages you “Like” or “Follow” on social media as well. If you “Like” or comment on derogatory and insensitive online content, future employers can still see it. And trust us, they will remember it when considering you for a job interview.
One of the most serious social media red flags employers can’t ignore is plagiarism on a candidate’s social media page. If you routinely post photos, quotes, or article excerpts without proper citations, your chance for receiving a job offer is greatly diminished.
Plagiarism is absolutely unacceptable in the business world, and plagiarizing gives the impression that you are lazy and have no problem taking other people’s work and using it as your own. Take the extra time to cite the original author or photographer when reposting photos, memes, or quotes; it will benefit you in the long run, and make you stand out against other candidates who aren’t as proactive.
9. Buying Your Followers
While the number of followers you’ve accumulated can be, at face value, an impressive statistic, the quality of the company you keep, which could translate to a real audience leading to potential real conversions, means more to employers.
In this era of “fake news,” junk profiles and bot social media accounts are easy enough to spot.
If a potential employer looks at your connections and sees that many of them are not real profiles, the employer will likely be unimpressed and concerned. It’s best to keep your friends and followers authentic and, in turn, professional.
Your online presence says a lot about you, and there are several social media red flags that hiring managers and employers look for before hiring, or sometimes even interviewing, a candidate.
Before applying for jobs, make sure your social media information matches up to the information on your resume. Then, Google your name and consider whether the search results are representative of who you are. If not, take the time to reinvent your presence on social media. Delete incriminating photos and posts, and alter your privacy settings.
Once you’re happy with the content on your social media profiles, regularly perform maintenance checks and avoid posting anything that could be considered one of these nine social media red flags.
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Do your online profiles contain any of these social media red flags? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!
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