Job seekers are savvier about social media than you might think. In a 2019 survey conducted by employment screening services firm JDP, 84% of respondents said that they believed social media had an impact on hiring decisions. Perhaps as a result, 50% reported that they had removed old social media profiles or posts to safeguard their professional reputation.
So, if you’re reading this, chances are that you already know to delete or lock down those old party photos. But posting inappropriate content isn’t the only social media mistake that can derail your job search or impede your professional goals.
CareerBuilder’s survey of hiring managers and HR professionals found that 70% of employers research job candidates on social media and that 57% of those respondents said they’d chosen not to move forward with a candidate because of something they found online. Interestingly, only 22% said that they looked at candidates’ social media to find reasons not to hire them. More than twice as many (58%) reported that they were looking for information that supported applicants’ qualifications for the job.
In other words, it’s not enough just to purge your online presence of things that can disqualify you.
To use social media to your professional advantage, you need to be positive as well as proactive.
It helps to know that some of the most damaging social media mistakes are the most subtle.
5 Social Media Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Career
1. Not Being on Social Media
Nearly half of the employers CareerBuilder surveyed said that they wouldn’t hire a candidate if they couldn’t find them online. Why? While 28% reported that they use social media to gather more information about an applicant prior to the interview, one in five respondents said simply that they “expect candidates to have an online presence.”
So, you can’t just refuse to participate in social media and hope for the best—at least not professionally. To be hirable, you must be searchable. That means having an online presence, updating your social media profiles and feeds regularly, and interacting with people in your industry.
This guide can help you get started creating your professional brand online with a few popular social networks. And if you have the opposite problem—decades of social networks and no real idea where to start—this checklist will help you lock them down or clean them up.
2. Having an Inconsistent Professional Brand
Your Twitter handle is @sportsfan*1991. Your LinkedIn URL is /businesslady47. And your Instagram and TikTok are…well, let’s just say you wouldn’t send them to your mom. So, what’s the problem?
One of the most challenging aspects of building a personal brand is figuring out which parts of your personality, skill set, and experience to emphasize in a professional context. We are all multifaceted human beings.
You don’t need to share every part of your life with a prospective employer. In fact, you shouldn’t.
The difference between a personal brand and a professional brand is that the latter is just the stuff that matters to an employer. (Or mentor. Or networking contact.) Your professional brand should also be consistent across social networks, right down to the photo you choose for your headshot.
3. Being Insincere
If you spend any time on Instagram or YouTube, you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon of influencers. These social media celebrities include actors, models, and reality TV stars—plus some homegrown famous folks who got their start online. What they have in common is the ability to influence viewers’ buying habits. The most successful can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single sponsored post.
When it comes to building a brand on social media, you can learn more from these influencers than just how to choose a camera angle or a hashtag. According to research, “perceived authenticity” matters even more than perceived attractiveness when it comes to which influencers convert consumer attention into sales. In other words, people are more likely to buy products when they sense that the seller genuinely uses and likes them.
When it comes to your brand online, you’re both the seller and the product, and everything you post tells prospective employers what they might be “buying,” so it’s important to be genuine and passionate about what you share.
4. Posting Too Frequently (Especially During Work Hours)
In its survey, CareerBuilder asked hiring managers to choose reasons why they didn’t move forward with a candidate after perusing their social media. Most of the reasons are unsurprising: 40% cited inappropriate photographs, 36% listed evidence of drinking or drug use, and 31% found offensive and discriminatory comments. But at least one reason might come as a surprise: 12% said they declined to pursue a candidate because they posted too frequently.
Why is frequent posting a problem? If it looks as if you spend all day on social media, your current or prospective employer might suspect that you’re not doing much else. This is especially a problem if you’re posting during the workday while you’re employed.
5. Sharing Information That Could Get You Fired
Hopefully, you know not to post trade secrets or to say negative things about your employer, boss, or coworkers on social media. But did you know that in many cases, you don’t need to share information that isn’t yours or do anything to disparage your company to lose your job?
Most U.S. workers are employed at will, which means that their employer can fire them for any reason or for no reason at all, as long as that reason isn’t discriminatory. In practice, this means that your employer may be able to fire you for something you do after work. For example, workers have lost their jobs for attending protests or for posting about their political beliefs on social media.
Some states including California, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota have laws that protect workers from being fired for engaging in legal activities after work hours. But there is no federal law protecting workers from termination, except in the case of discrimination based on protected characteristics such as age (40 and over), disability, sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
If you’re job seeking and feel passionate about your cause, you might decide that you don’t want to work for an employer who would dismiss your candidacy based on your beliefs. But if you’re anxious to be hired—or to hold on to your current job—it’s important to know that your social media activity may put you at risk.