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Why Job Seekers Should Clean Up Their Social Media Presence

Whether yo​u’re fresh out of college or looking to leap to a new company, it’s important to have a squeaky clean social media presence—or as close to it as possible, HR professionals and social media experts told SHRM Online.

Those sentiments are backed by research in a new study released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) titled The Importance of Social Media for Recruiters and Job Seekers, which was conducted in collaboration with and commissioned by Ascendo Resources. An infographic of the study is available here.

According to the study, HR professionals recommend that job seekers:

  • Have complete professional profiles (cited by 77 percent of respondents).
  • Keep their public content professional (73 percent).
  • Join social media groups that are relevant to their careers (47 percent).
  • Focus their social media postings on accomplishments and skills that are helpful to an employer (39 percent).
  • Make frequent updates to their professional profiles (38 percent).
  • Have only connections and followers who are relevant to their careers (35 percent).

That’s all because potential employers are watching.

According to Jobvite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey results, 93 percent of recruiters will review a candidate’s social media profile before making a hiring decision.

Fortunately, at least one expert said, most people are beginning to realize that they should keep their wildly outrageous social media activities off the Web.

Update Profiles Regularly

“Just like you run anti-virus software to rid your computer of anything harmful to your computer, you should do the same for your social media persona,” said Janine N. Truitt, chief innovations officer of Talent Think Innovations LLCin Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. “Take a look at what you have out there and triage things,” she advised. “If you have things on Facebook that aren’t the greatest and you are public, pull it back to private. If your LinkedIn hasn’t been updated in a few years, spruce it up.” If you have social media profiles that haven’t been used and you have no intention of using them, deactivate or delete those accounts, she added.

Jennifer Grygiel, who teaches social media at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, agreed that it’s a good idea to update online profiles regularly. Doing so conveys to your employer that this is “normal” activity and not a sign that you’re looking for another job, she explained.

For LinkedIn, in particular, “People want to do business with someone who takes themselves seriously enough to not have a cropped picture from a late night at a bar,” said Bill Fish, founder and president of Cincinnati-based, a website that helps people manage their online reputations. “Join groups that are relevant to your career. Begin to become an expert in your field. Write a couple of industry-specific pieces and link to them from your LinkedIn page. Making the effort to write a smart blog post or white paper is an excellent starting point to begin to ‘connect’ with influential people in your field.”

Millennials Get It

Generally, Millennials—whom research firm Deloitte says will make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025—understand the importance of keeping their public profiles professional, said Jamie Notter, author of Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World(Que Publishing, 2011) and When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (Ideapress Publishing, 2015).

In an interview with SHRM Online (after leading a webcast on HR technology and employee engagement for SHRM), Notter said, “While there are plenty of examples of new entrants into the workforce that screw up—that have a terrible social media profile—overall I think [Millennials] are going to handle … their whole social media portfolio better[than they have in the past]. Most of them know employers are going to Google you and know what they’re going to find.”

LinkedIn Basics

The best advice: “Google yourself,” said Geoff Brownell, a social media strategist and lead strategist at DigitasLBi, a Boston-based advertising and marketing firm. “See if anything—good or bad—pops up within the first three pages of search results. This is how you will appear to potential employers.”

He offered this advice to LinkedIn users:

  • Feature a clear and professional profile picture.
  • Include the last 5-10 years of professional experience.
  • Include any relevant education or volunteer experience.
  • Change your privacy and broadcast settings before making profile updates so that you don’t spam your network and raise the eyebrows of your current employer.
  • Include an elevator pitch in the summary section (why are you awesome?).
  • Connect with others—colleagues, friends, companies.
  • Begin to publish relevant professional content.
  • Own your LinkedIn presence.

“There is no easier and free way to passively market yourself to thousands of potential headhunters,” Brownell told SHRM Online.

Important for All Industries

Notter added that job seekers and recruiters realize that “engaging in social media is a basic leadership competency. I don’t care what field you’re in. If you don’t know how to build a network, you’re missing out. I would push the waitresses and truck drivers who are not social-media-savvy to use it, too—even if they use it less.”

In the SHRM/Ascendo Resources survey, more than three-quarters of HR professionals deemed it very important to have a social media presence for those seeking jobs in communications, media and public relations (82 percent), marketing and sales (79 percent), and advertising (76 percent). More than one-half said it was very important for IT/computer specialists (63 percent), human resource professionals (58 percent) and executive positions (57 percent).

Even for jobs and industries where a social media presence was viewed as less important, about 2 in 5 HR professionals still agreed it was somewhat or very important; these jobs and industries included manufacturing (42 percent), construction and extraction (42 percent), transportation (44 percent), and hourly positions (44 percent).

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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