How to curate your social media presence when job-hunting

Recently, I’ve been posting on job-related topics like networking strategies and job tenure. Because my current position entails working with college students, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to talk to various undergraduate groups about getting into graduate school. In fact, I’m giving one such presentation next week.

Many of the things I cover in such presentations are also broadly applicable to any situation where you are competing against a number of other applicants for a position. This includes job-hunting. I’ve also taught entire units on job-hunting in upper division business writing courses at the university level. Much of the advice that I give is pretty standard:

  • Research the position and the company
  • Write a cover letter and résumé that are tailored to the position
  • Give your references the information they need to recommend you, including a reminder of your recent accomplishments and details about the position.

One of the tips that I give always makes college students gasp in surprise and dismay — the idea that their social media presence could impact their employability. I have to admit to being somewhat surprised and dismayed myself that this hasn’t occurred to everyone. However, it is one of those things (like checking your credit report and credit score every year) that bears repeating and requires regular attention.

Social media and your professional identity

If you are like most people, your day job is your main source of income. Additionally, while you can only cut costs so far, your earning potential is theoretically unlimited. This is one of the reasons your income is so important. However, if your professional identity has been tainted by your social media presence, you could inadvertently be limiting your career and putting a cap on your earning potential.

A company’s reputation is important to them, both within their industry and with their customers. Increasingly, stories are surfacing on social media that can have an impact on how companies are viewed. Employers might not want to hire someone whose credibility is already questionable, and there are even stories of individuals who have been fired after making inappropriate postings to social media sites.

Whether you would rather keep the job you have, remain eligible for a promotion, or be regarded as employable when looking for new opportunities, it is important to curate your online presence. When discussing what your job tenure says about you, I suggested that there were two types of job-hunting: offensive and defensive. Similarly, curation of your presence on social media and elsewhere online also falls into these two categories.

Offensive curation of your online identity

Being on the offensive means being proactive, so here I am talking about creating a positive and professional presence for yourself online. There are lots of ways to do this, including:

  • Starting a professional blog. You might talk about industry trends, for example.
  • Setting up a professional Twitter account. You might post links to relevant articles or follow leaders in your profession.
  • Creating a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is like a cross between social media and a résumé. You can connect with or follow other people and join groups as well as list your professional and educational skills and accomplishments.

There may be other social networking sites where it would be useful for you to have a presence. Academics, for example, might have an account at or ResearchGate. Those in creative or visual careers such as interior decorators or cookbook authors might make good use of Pinterest or Instagram. If you are a professional working in an industry where the same task can be accomplished DIY (cooking, minor home or auto repairs, hairdressing), a series of YouTube videos might be just the thing.

Beyond social media, there are other ways to promote yourself in a manner that is outside the box. For example, if you have significant experience in a certain area, you might consider self-publishing a book. I’d never recommend paying to get published, but there are lots of options that allow you to get your ideas out there for free. These range from creating e-book PDFs to sell on your own website to programs like Kindle Direct Publishing or Nook Press that enable you to format your content for e-readers and sell for free in the digital marketplace.

If you are in an artistic field like graphic design, then another technique to rescue your rotten résumé would be to create an infographic résumé. Google “infographic résumé” and refine your search to images to see some mind-blowing examples. The specifics may vary, but you’re looking for ways to set yourself apart from the crowd in a creative and positive manner.

Defensive curation of your online identity

On the defensive side, you are looking to minimize the presence or impact of negative information. Tactics include setting all your personal social media accounts to the highest possible privacy setting and not allowing friends or family to tag you in posts or photos. You also want to be careful only to add other people to your networks that you actually know and trust.

However, these tips only go so far. You can safely assume that no matter what your privacy settings are, once something has gotten loose on the Interwebs, there is no way to truly get rid of it. Even if you delete something, there is probably still a copy of it somewhere, and anyone with some tech savvy and dedication can track it down.

As a result, you want to avoid talking about inflammatory topics or sensitive personal issues online. If you’d be uncomfortable with the fact that your child, parent, boss, or client knew you were hung over for the third day in a row or saw that photo of you mooning a priest, then there’s an even better strategy than privacy settings or deletion — simply don’t put it online in the first place.

Putting your name into a search engine every few months can help you keep track of what comes up when people look for you. If you find something that doesn’t reflect well on you, take appropriate action as soon as possible. There are companies you can hire to help ensure that negative results don’t appear when someone searches for you. Additionally, if negative information that is untrue surfaces, or you have been a victim of a sex crime like revenge porn (e.g., those celebrities whose phones were hacked and their intimate photos posted online), it may be helpful to get an attorney involved.

What defensive or offensive strategies have you used to curate your online presence? Do you have a success story or object lesson to share?

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There are 16 comments to "How to curate your social media presence when job-hunting".

  1. Mr. Frugalwoods says 06 November 2014 at 04:54

    Beyond just making sure your social media profiles aren’t hurting you, it’s a great idea to massage your public profiles to highlight things you’d like a hiring manager to know.

    For example: if you volunteer at a food bank, make sure you have some photos of you at the food bank on your public facebook timeline. Did you run a marathon? Shows commitment and determination. Put that on your public timeline. You get the idea.

  2. Beth says 06 November 2014 at 05:48

    IMHO, this isn’t just something you do when you’re job hunting — it’s something you do all the time. Employers can tell when you’ve thrown something together, like a blog that suddenly has more entries or a Twitter account that’s only a month or two old. Like networking, the time to think about your personal brand and your online presence is before you need to. I’ve known people to delete their Facebook accounts entirely rather than clean up years worth of stuff they don’t want employers to see.

    Having been on the hiring side of the desk, I’ve also seen that everyone and their dog is doing this now so it’s become an expectation in many industries, not a way to gain an edge.

    • Honey Smith says 06 November 2014 at 08:36

      I agree that you can’t just do this when you’re job hunting. Just like you can’t suddenly care about your credit score right before you put an offer in on a house, it requires regular care and attention. Good point!

  3. Brian @ Debt Discipline says 06 November 2014 at 07:23

    As someone who hires staff I always check for online presence to see what I can learn about a person I might not get in an interview. I think it’s important that college age job seekers understand the possible negative affect social media could have (bad first impression)It is generally something I remind my 3 children each and everyday. Think before you post.

    • Carla says 10 November 2014 at 10:35

      @Brian – Do you check everyone or just your younger candidates? I ask because my husband is not on social media (and has no time or desire to open up any accounts. I would hate for that to hurt his prospects because he’s not listed on the web.

  4. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says 06 November 2014 at 08:34

    I’m surprised that they were surprised by this!

    Good tips for getting on the offensive though. With jobs tougher to come by for new grads, you have to use every tool available.

  5. Beard Better says 06 November 2014 at 09:18

    It’s amazing to me that people still act like the internet is somehow separated from “real life,” especially given that it seems like someone is fired or arrested for something foolishly posted on social media on a regular basis nowadays. It seems simple enough to avoid posting things that make you look bad online, let alone posting self-incriminating evidence.

    The way I have approached it has been to just avoid the issue altogether. I don’t use any social media personally (although I probably should be on LinkedIn and Academia) and, shockingly, have suffered no negative consequences from it. Based on how much people complain about everything Facebook does, I have probably even come out ahead by avoiding the stress. While this may not be possible for artists, performers and people with careers that require them to have a significant public presence, most people do not fall into these job categories. If you have to be on social media, then at least keep things positive and follow the suggestions in this article. Unfortunately, most people are not able to do this either and get bogged down screeching about politics, religion, etc.

    Now if you were to Google my name you would only see my mentions from professional associations, my current research group’s website, and my research publications. The only things you’ll dig up on me from the past are mentions of my undergraduate research work and some academic honors from high school. In my opinion, it is far better to have just a few positive search results than to have even one negative one.

    • Honey Smith says 06 November 2014 at 16:19

      Just because YOU don’t post things about yourself on social media doesn’t mean other people don’t. Still worth keeping an eye on, IMO.

  6. Ely says 06 November 2014 at 10:00

    Googling my name, the first result that comes up is my IMDB page – and I haven’t worked in movies in about 15 years. I’m not an actor, either, so there are no photos. Half or more of the results on the page are movie related, and the rest are my book pages and articles I’ve written. The image results are either things I’ve pinned or pictures I’ve put up as part of a bio or something.

    Nothing to do with my current job, but fun nonetheless. 🙂

  7. Mrs PoP says 06 November 2014 at 10:47

    Also pay heed to the relative uniqueness of your name and adjust your online persona accordingly. My name is rather unique, so I have gone in and asked for quotes and images (nothing that bad, just words of a 19 year old instead of the 30-something I am today) to be removed if I didn’t want them to be easily found via a search.
    If you have a rather common first and surname, you can do what another friend of mine has done, which is always use her full name, including her unique middle name, on anything that she wants to be identifiable professionally. It helps distinguish Jane Stardust Doe (not her real name!) from all the other Jane Doe’s out there quickly.

  8. Another Beth says 06 November 2014 at 12:23

    Given what I’ve read about my friends’ political leanings on Facebook in the last month, I WISH more people would keep these tips in mind!

    • Beth says 06 November 2014 at 15:56

      Ha ha ha, same here! My other pet peeve is hearing all about my friends’ kids’ bodily functions when they’re sick. Or people’s temper tantrums when they’re upset with someone or something.

      My rule of thumb is never to post anything when I’m angry, upset or frustrated. A quick walk is usually a better outlet — and a far less permanent one.

  9. sarah says 06 November 2014 at 15:31

    Interesting. In my field we try to stay off social media or keep things as private as possible. I’m a therapist so I need to maintain my own privacy and have to be very careful what my clients know about me. I think that having anything much about yourself public would be looked upon negatively by a prospective employer, if they even thought to look into it.

  10. Maria says 07 November 2014 at 20:37

    I have the same name as a wannabe C-list actress, so good luck to anyone trying to find me online as they sort through all the junk she’s put out there while desperately trying to get acting/modeling/commentating jobs. I don’t use social media, but if I did, I have a feeling I would struggle with her shadow anyway.

  11. MaxRyan says 12 November 2014 at 20:57

    It is unfortunate that as a fresher, getting a startup job will be a struggle. Everyone will seem to want experience and how will you get that if nobody gives you a job in the first place! Don’t let it bog you down. If you have the right conviction, the necessary dedication and the right approach, that startup job will be yours soon. Nice Tips. Thanks

  12. Maia Naegele says 04 December 2014 at 07:50

    You guys are so inspiring always looking forward to the next great advice from your blog.I have come to the realization that your mind is a very powerful tool and that once you can convince your mind to do something that your body will follow. What it comes down to is that you can do and change anything if you put your mind to it and you need a positive outlook to do it, thank you for your always welcomed pearls of wisdom, hope you have a great and blessed day.

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