Your online presence will be checked. We repeat — your online presence will be checked. Make sure you're prepared.
Let's imagine you just landed an interview for a job that you really want. The pay is right, the company has a sterling reputation, and there is plenty of room for career growth. You know better than to wear a t-shirt and jeans to your interview, so you pick out an appropriate, yet stylish, outfit meant to impress. Then, once you're in the hiring manager's office, you will speak politely and positively while you impress them with your skill set.
But wait — what about a social media check?
The truth is, prepping for your interview is just a small part of the picture. According to this CareerBuilder survey, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen potential candidates during the hiring process. As a result of this trend, you should be working to create a personal brand through your online presence, not just practicing your responses to interview questions. If you haven't started cultivating your presence, here's a great checklist to help you get started. If you have, you need to make sure your brand is depicting exactly what you want it to.
Does that mean hiring managers will be looking at your LinkedIn page? Almost certainly. But what makes you think they'll stop there? They will probably do a full social media check, too. If that gives you a little panic moment, it probably should. Other social media sites, blogs, and websites, plus anything else you do online, leave a trail that could lead to negative impressions for potential employers.
Here is a simple checklist of things to look for and clean up before it's too late.
Your LinkedIn account isn't likely to have a lot of embarrassing stuff floating around, but is it in prime shape? Employers checking social media will be sure to start here. Make sure you have a winning LinkedIn profile to give them a fantastic first impression.
Start by asking yourself if everything is up to date. It seems overly simple, but it's easy to forget to change your profile after switching jobs or positions, getting a new website, or even moving to a new city. Also, make smart use of keywords. Sprinkle relevant keywords throughout your profile to attract the attention of hiring managers you want to talk to.
Your Facebook page isn't meant to be professional, is it? No, but that won't stop potential employers doing a social media check from looking at it anyway. Some even go so far as to directly ask for your information and to be allowed to fully view your page (no filters), but be wary of any company that does that.
To ensure potential employers won't see what you don't want them to see, go to the top right-hand corner of your profile and click the question mark symbol. Then, go to “Privacy Check-Up.” This will allow you to indicate who you want to be able to see your future posts, monitor what apps you logged into and delete what you don't use anymore, and decide who can see what's on your personal profile. Take your time and look over each step carefully.
Next, view your activity log, which you can find by clicking the down arrow next to the question mark symbol in the right-hand corner of your screen. This shows everything you've done on Facebook and whether or not it was public. In short, this is what people see when they see you on Facebook. What kind of picture does it paint of you?
Pay special attention to pictures that show you in a bad light. Illegal drugs, constant drinking, or overtly sexual images are major no-nos. In the privacy settings, you can set it so any pictures you are tagged in have to be reviewed by you before posting on your timeline. If you see pictures that you don't really like, remove the tag or ask the people who uploaded them to delete.
Do you have posts where you rant and rave about politics, relationships, or previous employers? They fall into that “seemed like a good idea at the time” category, but trust us, they weren't. Look over your posts and weed out the things that are most likely to give employers a negative impression of you.
Your personal blog
If you have a professional blog or website, that's fantastic. Demonstrating knowledge in your field and the ability to communicate at the same time can do wonders for your job prospects. A personal blog, however, might be a little more than an online journal. Maybe it talks about your hobbies, your experiences dating, or something else from your personal life.
Having a personal blog is not a negative if it is done in a moderately professional way. Even though you may think nobody reads your blog (and maybe you haven't touched it in years), it's still out there and probably visible. That means you should revisit your blog and edit if necessary. If you don't use it anymore, it may be worth taking down entirely.
Twitter and Instagram
Odds are you probably have either Twitter or Instagram (or both). That means your profiles on these sites are fair game to prospective employers. Now, there is the option of having a professional Twitter and Instagram profiles — which are open to the public and align with your professional brand — and also having private profiles — where you can be more personal. However, if having multiple accounts is a bit much for you and you would rather just use your personal profiles, then make sure you update your privacy settings if you don't want future employers snooping around.
For Twitter, go to “Settings” and then “Security and Privacy,” and click “Protect My Tweets.” Your tweets will only go to followers now, and anyone wishing to follow you must get permission. You can also type your name into the search box to check your presence on Twitter. You may find that you've been mentioned without your knowledge. Look for any disparaging remarks and take care of them — which means you may have to contact the original tweeter.
For Instagram, go to “Edit Your Profile” and choose “Posts Are Private” to hide your profile from peering eyes. Also, make sure to look through your tagged photos. If you are tagged in some not-so-pleasant photos by users who aren't private, you risk an employer finding it. Luckily, you can remove yourself from the post by clicking the three dots in the top right corner of the post, selecting “Post Options,” and choosing between “Remove Me From Post” or “Hide From My Profile” based on what you think will be best.
All the rest
Depending on how you like to interact with the world online, you may have a dozen or more social media accounts. Here's how to tackle all your networks and perform your own social media check.
Reddit: Log in and go to “Preferences,” scrolling down to the bottom. You'll find privacy settings there. Uncheck "Make my votes public" and "Allow my data to be used for research purposes." Then, check the bottom two boxes labeled "Don't allow search engines to index my user profile," and "Load core JS libraries from Reddit servers." This one keeps Google from getting your IP address and other info about you.
YouTube: If you've uploaded videos in the past, the default setting is “Public.” If you don't want to delete old videos, go into your video editor and find the privacy settings listed on the right-hand side. Click on where you see it say “Public.” There you will have the option to set your video to “Private” or “Unlisted.” Both options will ensure that your video will not show up on your channel or in search results, but private means that only those with YouTube accounts can view the video once you share it. Unlisted, on the other hand, means anyone with the link can view the video, regardless if they have an account or not. Pick which option is best for you.
Pinterest: Change your privacy settings by clicking the three dots at the top of the site to open your menu. Go to “Edit Settings”, click “Privacy & Data” on the left-hand side of the screen, and make the changes you want. You can also set up secret boards that only you can view.
Google+: If you have a Gmail account, you have a Google+ account. Check it for accuracy, update it, or delete it, if necessary.
Tumblr: You can set your Tumblr blog to not be posted on the web and not show up in search engine results, as well as change the privacy settings on individual posts or even create a password-protected private blog. Unless it is a professional blog, you may want to do that.
Flickr: Log in and click on “You” in the menu. Under “Privacy Settings,” there is a link to your default preferences. Click on this link and set your defaults accordingly.
It's worth the effort to look at each of your accounts, clean up the ones you still like, and simply delete the accounts that you don't use at all anymore.
Have you posted your resume to your profile on a number of job boards? Once you've landed a job, it's easy to forget to update or delete those profiles. Old, outdated resumes and profiles can send the wrong message. Find them and either update or delete them. If you decide to update them, be sure to add in some of those great keywords to draw attention.
Once you've done your social media check and completed a pretty thorough clean up of your social media sites, type your name into Google and see what comes up. What shows up in this search is, in essence, representative of your online brand. Be ready for anything — it could be old comments you've left on various news, sports, or pop culture sites, or you may even discover that someone else has quoted you or referenced you without your knowledge.
Once you've found everything and done what you can to clean it up, click on the “Images” tab. Chances are there will be some images of you — and that a lot that has nothing to do with you. There's not much you can do about them, but look at the ones that really are you. Do they present you in a favorable or professional way? If not, find out where they are coming from and clean them up.
If you want to remove things from Google's search findings, there are ways to do that by contacting Google itself.
Add positive material
Even once you've cleaned up all of your online presence, it's impossible to know everything that is out there. One more thing you can do that has a dual benefit is to start posting on all of your social media sites regularly. The key here is to keep your posts positive, fun, and free of any red flags.
These posts will be some of the most recent hits that a hiring manager sees, so they will present you in the light that you want. The added benefit is that by adding a lot of new material, you're pushing the old material down the list. It doesn't mean that it's not still out there, but you can reduce the chances that someone will see it by having a new wave of positive material taking the top spots.
You may not want to worry about your image on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, but if you're putting yourself out there and looking for a new career, it's a necessary part of today's world. When all is said and done, it's still possible to show your personality and have a great time on social media without crossing those lines; finding the balance between fun and professional isn't as hard as you may think. With these simple tips, you can clean up your web trail and start building a better virtual you.
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