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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