Social media causes us to focus on the moment: what we’re doing, where we’re checking in, what’s trending now. But have you ever considered how your posts will reflect back on you in the future?

This year, CareerBuilder’s annual social media recruitment survey found that 60% of employers actively research potential job candidates on social networking sites (varying slightly by industry, with IT at a whopping 76%). This number is nearly 5.5 times greater than the first time the survey was conducted ten years ago!

It’s more than fair to say that what you post matters to your professional life. Yet so many of us still don’t stop to think about the consequences of sending out that angry, politically-charged tweet or posting that “hilarious” drunk photo our friend took of us peeing behind a bush.

Let’s take a look at both the positive and negative sides of the social connectivity coin.


The Bad

CareerBuilder reports in the same survey that almost half of hiring managers found information on social media profiles that caused them to decide against hiring candidates. Here are the top 5 types of content that aided in these decisions.

1. Provocative & inappropriate content

People can get caught up in the frenzy of attention that sexy photos or videos can gain them, but it goes without saying that these types of things are not what a potential employer should come across when searching for you. And it’s good to remember that what gets put up on the internet is basically there–in some form–forever. Interacting with sleazy pornography peddling pages or accounts, communicating publicly using “bedroom talk” with lovers (real, potential, or digital), and posting gratuitously racy imagery are all things that will make you seem unsuitable for professional positions.

If you want to share provocative media, do so privately and only with people you completely trust. But keep in mind that accounts and the cloud can be hacked (just ask any number of celebrities), and that sometimes those you thought you knew well can do things to hurt you later if their opinion of you changes.


2. Evidence of drug use or heavy drinking

It’s a good idea to never directly associate yourself with any illegal or unsavory activities. You might think it makes you look cool to post innuendos about what you and your friends took or did at a wild party, but the person who will be hiring you undoubtedly thinks otherwise. Take down or untag any photos of you that involve underage or sloppy drinking, toking it up with your buddies, or being high on any form of illegal substance.

Sure, in some states in the U.S. it’s now legal to smoke and consume marijuana, and alcohol itself is not illegal if you’re of age. But flaunting pictures or comments about partaking in these things can make an employer believe that you’re unreliable, or that you conform to an objectionable stereotype even if you do not. If you enjoy having a fun night out or partying with your friends, modify your privacy settings so that this type of content is only shared between you and those friends, not your coworkers, potential employers, or the public.


3. Discriminatory comments

Despite how you might feel about certain groups within society, you shouldn’t make yourself a poster child for intolerance. Yes, if you live in the U.S., you do get to enjoy the freedom of speech; but you must be aware that taking a negative approach towards others is considered extremely unprofessional and offensive.

Companies must follow strict laws that keep them from discriminating against anyone for their gender, race, color, age, ability, or orientation. Spewing hateful commentary or sharing bigoted memes not only makes you seem like you would be a terrible person to work with, you could also be a liability and risk for the organization looking to hire you.


4. Bad-mouthing previous employers or fellow employees

The dreaded “bad day at work.” Traffic was terrible, making you embarrassingly late. Your boss gives you a task that rubs you the wrong way. Your computer deletes all the work you’ve done for the last hour. The guy in the cubicle next to you has terrible breath and won’t stop interrupting your flow. The printer jams and you get ink all over your clothes. You’re forced to stay late for a project you don’t care about. We get it! We’ve all been there.

But resist the urge to vent on your social media accounts, particularly those that face outward with no privacy filters! For one thing, your current employer could come across it and reprimand (or even fire!) you. And if a future employer finds it when researching you as a candidate, it will make them believe that you’re ungrateful and a pain to work around. Organizations have a brand to protect, and if their employees are likely to complain publicly about them on social media, they’ll pass you up and go on to the next candidate.


5. Lack of communication skills

As more and more people get in the habit of quick communication via touchscreens and instant messaging, all sorts of interesting patterns are arising. We’ve all got years of abbreviated phrases under our belts now–LOL, BRB, IDK, SMH–and the list continues to grow. We shorten words to save time: thx, plz, EZ, n00b. David Crystal has even made the argument that the period itself is actually going out of style.

However, if you’re looking to land a professional job, you should spend a little extra time typing out your thoughts. A potential employer will see ur brokn wrds as totes lazy and immature. If you’re expected to interact with fellow employees, clients, or customers, you’re going to need to seem like you’re educated, literate, and can carry your side of a professional conversation. Ditto for the grammar.


The Good

By this point, you might be thinking that you should just keep all of your profiles completely private, but that’s not necessarily the best plan. More than 2 in 5 employers report being less likely to hire candidates if they’re unable to find any online information about that person.

However, if you maintain a professional, personable “brand” for yourself while connecting through social networks, it could actually help you get hired! About one-third of those same employers found information on social networks that caused them to hire a candidate. Here are the top 5 things employers might look for throughout your profiles in order to hire you.

1. Background information supports job qualifications

Many times, hiring managers are just looking to make sure that you haven’t exaggerated or lied on your resume, and to see if you have any further experience or skills that could make you a better potential candidate. Make sure that the information you’ve posted on any of your profiles is up to date and consistent. Anything that’s different from what you’ve listed on your resume will raise a big red flag, making you seem shady and dishonest.

Remember that social profiles are also an opportunity to showcase your strengths in addition to the bare facts of what you’ve accomplished. Find ways to subtly reinforce that you can offer exactly what your future employers need.


2. Displays a professional image

Coming across as a professional can be easy if you avoid doing anything on the previous list. You should also update your profile picture to something simple that makes you seem qualified, but remains genuine to who you are. Be confident, have a positive mindset, and build a strong network of people in the same industry. You’ll get bonus points if you can display your knowledge of the field in an effortless, timely way that gets others to engage with you.


3. Personality appears to be a good fit for company culture

Marcie Kirk Holland–project manager at the UC Davis Internship & Career Center–says, “Part of what companies do when they [search] for you on social media is to see how you conduct yourself. They want to know how you’ll interact with your co-workers and more importantly their customers or potential customers.” This doesn’t mean you should try to be something that you’re not, but it does go hand-in-hand with portraying a professional image that makes it seem like working with you would be a positive experience.

It might help to follow any companies that embody your idea of what you’d like to pursue in your career. Engage with them consistently; this will not only help you learn the industry lingo, but is also a great way to demonstrate your expertise and value.


4. Well-rounded with a wide range of interests

Your social profiles shouldn’t become a mere extension of your resume, with you blandly following a script that only serves to enforce your list of skills, work experiences, and self pitches. That’s not very interesting, and more importantly, that doesn’t actually represent YOU.

Sure, employers are looking for those things in their candidates, but that’s only the first part of the equation. They also want to know what kind of person you are, what you’re interested in, how your personality works, what you like to do for fun, which organizations you volunteer for on the regular… Don’t forget that your “multifaceted-ness” is what makes you an interesting human!


5. Great communication skills

This is the counterpoint to #5 on the last list, but it’s about more than just nixing the 1337 speak from your online vocabulary. A good potential candidate has a strong ability to communicate their ideas to others, and would successfully engage in intriguing conversations with those around them.

Robotically sharing and retweeting industry content only gets you so far; if you can become a resource to the industry for your own content and ideas, it will build your social capital. You can try starting a blog (with good grammar!) and write interesting articles in your spare time. If that’s not for you, join discussion groups on LinkedIn or chats on Twitter related to your field and help out others by answering their questions or simply jumping into the conversation. At the very least, add your own two cents to any content that you repost.


Final Thoughts & Advice

Remember that the people you interact with can affect your overall image as well. Delete any offensive comments that others leave on your posts. Don’t engage with them and start a nasty flame war. Make sure that pictures you’re tagged in reflect the image you’d like to portray, or request that they be taken down. Also take into consideration that someone outside of your in-group might not understand the background for stories or photos, and could thus take them out of context. The key is to learn to conduct yourself in a respectable manner while still being who you are as an individual!

Remember, too, that you’re not exempt from these rules if you’re already in a steady, professional job. 41% of employers use social networking sites to research current employees; more than 1 in 4 of those people found content that caused them to reprimand or even fire someone!


Always think before you post. It might seem fun to jump in on an edgy trend or to get a bunch of hearts for a sexy selfie on Instagram, but how would you feel if that came up in a few years during an interview for your dream job? Any time you post, put on a potential employers’ shoes and ask yourself honestly, “Would I hire myself?”

Kayley Melton

Director of Digital Strategy at SAC
Kayley manages our growing footprint on the web and develops marketing strategies to both keep us current & help us reach more people who might benefit from our message. A professionally trained artist and verifiable “weird girl,” she has 5 pet-children, cooks unbelievably good food, and can out-lift you at the gym.