Maintaining a spotless public image online is usually associated with brands and their engagement with the audience. From Wendy’s Twitter account entertaining subscribers with brutal roasts to quick and polite competence projected by Apple – brands rely on their image and reputation to keep them in business.
Yet you, as an individual, have an image too! You are not just a bundle of random footprints here and there – at least, you shouldn’t be. Why? Because as a graduate with not much of a resume to speak of, you will be hired based on your potential. And what better way to assess your potential than to see the real person with their passions, hobbies, friendships, and favorite pastimes? An avid reader and thoughtful paper writer with interests in wellness and a bucket list of destinations for a backpacking tour looks more promising than a moody author of caustic one-liner statuses always complaining about the weather or posting cryptic messages that look like diary excerpts – at least, from an employer’s perspective.
I know, I know! This seems unfair, and you feel entitled to your piece of privacy in digital space as well as in the real world. Yet let’s face the facts. According to a 2020 study by The Harris Poll, 67% of the surveyed hiring decision-makers use social media profiles to screen candidates, and more than half have found content that made them refuse applicants. So even if you aren’t an online influencer, it pays to make a conscious effort to keep a positive online presence. In this article, I will give you some advice and tips on creating and maintaining a desirable image.
Step number one is establishing what is the first thing your potential employer will see when they search your name online. Do this in an anonymous tab to ensure your search history won’t influence the results – or ask someone you trust to do it for you. We all know that digital is forever, but we might not realize the extent of our footprint. Something we deem forgotten and consumed by the sands of time might come back years after to haunt us – like that unfortunate culturally insensitive Halloween costume or drunken shenanigans filmed by your classmates while you were too busy having fun. Old blogs, forum posts, fanart, YouTube comments – sort out anything you don’t want to be public anymore.
Of course, not everything that seems a bit embarrassing and cringeworthy is necessarily detrimental to your career prospects. Employers don’t really play the “Gotcha!” game. Most of the time, they look online to find reasons to hire you and confirm your qualifications, not to refuse you. However, they must monitor for some obvious red flags: anything illegal, offensive, aggressive, or sexually explicit. So do take care to delete anything objectionable in this vein. If you cannot remove the content directly, contact the platform with a request to take it down. In some rare cases when this is also impossible, you can hire the services of a company that specializes in data cleanup.
Audit your social media
Even if you don’t plan to use this particular channel for professional outreach, make sure any of your profiles don’t contain images or statements you wouldn’t wish your potential employer or colleagues to see. You might think of certain platforms being reserved purely for having fun, but you never know where recruiters might want to look. Therefore, better check any account where you appear under your real name – even those you don’t use anymore. You might not be active there since 2018, but it doesn’t mean HRs can’t stumble upon it.
Make sure your profile pictures, tags, and bios are clean and appropriate. Look over the most recent posts and delete them if they are dubious – or at least hide them by making them private. Also, remember the content, which isn’t yours, but shows up along with your name – for example, photos where you’ve been tagged by your friends and family. On Instagram and Facebook, you can hide such content if you don’t want it to be visible, but on other platforms, you might want to either make a deep dive into the privacy settings or just ask your contacts to remove mentions of your name and unlink everything you don’t want to be associated with.
Most social media platforms have privacy settings allowing you to control which content is visible to anyone on the web and which is only available to the curated pool of people that send requests – friends, subscribers, etc. Some platforms, like Facebook, have robust and nuanced privacy settings systems where you can select which aspects of your profile are public and which are private – down to a specific post. It pays to explore the possibilities of every platform and decide what to leave wide open to the public and what to hide. In some cases, unfortunately, you will need to choose whether to restrict access to your entire profile.
All this might feel like an awful lot of work, and you might be tempted to delete your entire profile altogether. However, this is one of the worst things you can do! First of all, even if you close your profile down, some of the content might linger in search results or be accessed through archives. Second, it might send the wrong message to the hiring managers. About 20% of employers from The Harris Poll’s study say they won’t consider hiring a person that is unsearchable online. Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation, explains it simply: “Erasing all of your profiles often implies that you have something to hide.”
Separate professional and personal
As many as 78% of employers believe their employees must maintain a work-appropriate social media profile. So if you don’t want to feel like you are in the office even on Sundays, you might want to draw a line between your personal and professional online personas for the future. There are several ways you can go about it.
Option number one is designating specific sites for professional purposes only while using others for private purposes. For example, LinkedIn and Twitter are your professional networks for job hunting, while your Instagram and TikTok are where your casual self has fun and socializes. Option number two is setting separate accounts on one platform, for example, having a professional account on Twitter with a sensible handle and a personal one with a more whimsical alias, avatar, and content. Most people, however, try to maintain a golden medium between the two personas within a single account, managing content with the help of privacy settings. For example, your private publications are available only to a circle of close friends on Instagram, and your public-facing content is open to all your subscribers.
There is no one answer that would fit everyone. To decide, ask yourself: if I open my profile to my colleagues, would I be able to post as usual, or would I feel restricted? Would I be comfortable with my friends seeing my professional content, or would I rather they couldn’t comment and react? Take your time weighing all pros and cons.
Let the content do the talking
Okay, there is a lot of restricting and hiding. How about the things you actually want to show? First, you must decide which overall image you want to project and which traits to put front and center. This, in its turn, depends on the career you envision. For example, if you want to be an author or an editor, maybe consider joining BookTok trends with your reviews or discussing your favorite characters. If you see yourself in the IT industry, posting Stories from the latest hackathon won’t go amiss.
It’s nothing too complicated, really: if you are genuinely passionate about something, you will want to talk about it and share it with the world. And you probably want to link your career with it. If that’s not the case, maybe you should revise your career goals and adjust them, tapping into your interests for inspiration.
An important side note: proofread everything before you post. You don’t want bad grammar to speak for you. Mistakes make you look careless or uneducated. Neither is a good thing in the eyes of employers.
Positive content doesn’t mean only smiles and trophies are allowed. Yet, if you want to give your potential employers a favorable impression about yourself, you should be mindful of the attitude you project via your posts. Soft skills are just as essential and sought-after as hard skills. Of course, these are not universal and depend on the company culture. However, personality traits that will get you hired will most probably include flexibility, decisiveness, curiosity, independent thinking, and integrity.
How to demonstrate those? Through strategic storytelling! Meg Sheetz, a CEO in the health and wellness industry, highlights, “Sharing stories that demonstrate how you performed during a negative experience is extremely important to help get across your personality traits.” So instead of complaining, better entertain your audience with stories of how you handled yourself during trying times.
Shifting focus from yourself once in a while might also be helpful. Thank others for their help, and don’t hesitate to tag and congratulate colleagues on their achievements. This will demonstrate better than words that you are a team player and a positive, grateful person.
Follow relevant accounts
It’s not all about what you post but also about what you consume and how you engage with the content. First, a list of relevant subscriptions and community memberships will look good on your profile. Second, it will give you plenty of opportunities to repost topical content that you find interesting to your page, thus regularly updating it. However, refrain from mindless copying. Only repost things you genuinely find interesting and add your thoughts to start a discussion.
This way, you will also stay updated on the latest developments in your industry and be open to networking opportunities. Thoughtful comments under relevant articles and exchange of opinions with others in your industry will make you visible and might improve your chances of being hired if decision-makers remember you as an active member of the professional community. By following employers you are interested in, you might also be among the first to learn about the job openings.
While it’s good to have a lot of diverse interests, it’s also important not to disperse your attention. You might want to unsubscribe from some accounts that don’t offer interesting or helpful content to eliminate white noise.
Keep your profiles up to date
Last, but not least, try to post regularly to keep your profile fresh and up to date. Relevant experience, training, awards, events in the industry, new skills and interests – anything might be a potential point in your favor in the eyes of hiring decision-makers. A neglected social media profile, on the other hand, might cost you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because a recruiter might conclude nothing notable happened in your life and you don’t have the required qualifications besides the entry-level ones. Or worse: they will think you are indifferent.
Besides, the more relevant and positive content there is, the less likely your potential employers will scroll down to those old entries you aren’t so happy to advertise anymore. Keeping your social media profiles current is a win-win solution.
One last thing before you go checking on your tweets from 2016. In the information age, it’s impossible to live one life and project another to the public, so the best you can do is be authentic. Post mindfully, and maybe think twice about adding that wild photo from a dorm party to your Stories, but don’t try to seem like someone you aren’t. Stay positive and true to yourself. Good luck, and see you online!