Dear Sam: My son will be graduating from college this year and is preparing to enter the job market. He has a pretty good academic record and some reputable internships on his resume, but I’m worried about what he posts online (think: nights out on the town with his buddies). Am I overly concerned, or is social media bad and could it really affect him getting a job? – Larry
Dear Larry: Your concerns are valid! The latest CareerBuilder study shows that 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring. According to the survey, employers look for and consider four main factors when reviewing a candidate’s online presence: information that supports his or her qualifications; the existence of a professional online presence; what others are saying about the candidate; and any reason not to hire the candidate. The last part can be subjective, so in addition to warning clients about posting inappropriate photos or information (including photos depicting the use of alcohol or drugs), I always caution them against bad-mouthing their current or previous company or coworkers, using an unprofessional screen name, and posting about sensitive or taboo topics (including politics!) In my opinion, potentially losing out on a career opportunity because of a heated discussion online is not worth the risk.
Good news: There are websites that can help your son clean up his social media. Two examples are www.repnup.com and www.scrubber.social. These sites will scan a user’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and identify damaging posts and pictures. These tools are especially valuable because they will search through a user’s entire social media history, so they could find posts that your son may have forgotten he made years ago. The extent of digging an employer does into a candidate’s online history varies, so it’s better to be safe and remove ALL potentially harmful content, even from years past.
While I recommend being cautious about social media, I don’t recommend disappearing from social media entirely. Statistics show that over half of employers are less likely to interview a candidate they can’t find online, so not having an online presence at all can be just as bad as having a negative online presence.
Beyond cleaning up his current social media profiles, I highly recommend that your son create a strong LinkedIn profile to help him improve his online presence even more. A well-developed LinkedIn profile can act as an online portfolio, allowing a person to showcase his or her experiences, skills, accomplishments, recommendations, and more. A professional online profile is a significant component of an individual’s personal brand, and trust me: it’s much better to have a professional LinkedIn profile appear at the top of Google results rather than SnapChat, Instagram, Tumblr, or other less professional social media accounts.
LinkedIn is also a valuable networking platform. It is an ideal place to find and connect with prospective employers, peers, potential mentors, and more. A LinkedIn network can become a powerful and wide-reaching virtual Rolodex with which a person can introduce themselves, ask for help, and share resources. The power of LinkedIn is in the 2nd and 3rd connections…the bigger your network, the higher the chances that you know someone who knows someone.
Finally, LinkedIn is also a major tool for job searching. Not only can users search for positions directly through the LinkedIn Jobs portal, but recruiters are able to search for candidates that meet their criteria. More than 90% of recruiters utilize LinkedIn to discover talent, and if a candidate is not on LinkedIn, he or she essentially does not exist through the eyes of a recruiter. Not being on LinkedIn in today’s market has been compared to a business not being listed in the YellowPages in the 1980s-1990s. Yikes!
With your son’s college graduation approaching, time is of the essence. His online persona does indeed have the potential to get him in trouble. Equally important, taking time to cultivate a strong, professional online presence can help your son achieve job search success. Please pass along my congratulations and well wishes as he starts the next chapter of his life!