People are watching you right now. Like it or not — agree with the intrusion or not — you are being Googled, judged, and analyzed by the body of content you’ve posted online. Whether you are applying to a college, for a summer job, or even currently employed, you can bet someone who matters to your future is on your digital trail.
But before you lock down all of your social accounts, be aware: The lack of a social profile online can also cost you a job. In a recent survey released by CareerBuilder, more than 41 percent of employers say they are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about that person online.
So the new best practice is to A) clean up any questionable content from all social profiles and B) design your social content in a way that reflects your best self.
That same survey also revealed that 60 percent of employers consistently use social networking sites to research job candidates. The poll included 2,186 hiring managers and human resource professionals and 3,031 US workers. College admission officers are also searching you out. A 2013 Kaplan Test Prep surveyed nearly 400 college admissions officers and found that 30% said they found something online that negatively impacted the applicant’s chances of getting admitted. Unfortunately, when canvassing students in a separate study, Kaplan found that 50% of students admitted they would “not be concerned” about an admissions officer researching them online while 27% said they were “not too concerned,” and 14% said they were “very concerned.” Offenses cited in the admissions study included essay plagiarism, vulgarities in blogs, alcohol consumption in photos and “illegal activities.” While the definition of “offensive” varies from person to person, your future is too important to leave to chance. So, it’s safe to err on the side of caution when cleaning your social channels.
10 Easy Ways to Clean Up & Curate Your Social Media
1. Make a hit list. Know what message and person you hope to project and start editing from there. Review everything about your profiles from your bio to the kinds of movies and books you read, to the groups you belong to.
- Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos, or posts
- Posts or photos that include drinking or using drugs
- Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.
- Content that complains about a previous employer or colleague
- Posts that are overly cynical, grumpy, or mean
Consider keeping or adding:
- Profile information that reflects integrity and responsibility
- Content that projects a professional image
- Content that shows a friendly, positive personality
- Content that shows you to be well-rounded, with wide range of interests
- Content that shows you have great communication skills
2. Think like the decision maker. Put yourself in the position of the person whose job it is to recruit or hire qualified people who also show they are responsible online. What may not offend you (the applicant) could easily offend an admissions officer or employer. A good rule for digital editing: When in doubt, take it out. Or, use The Granny Rule: If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see your post, then delete it. (If you feel strongly about publishing unconventional or risky content then create a separate, locked account on Instagram or another platform).
3. Streamline your selfies. The selfie craze is in full bloom, but too many fish-faces or duck-lips photos of yourself could come across to a decision maker as immature or narcissistic. If you can’t decide how many selfies to delete, ask an adult to help you trim your photos down.
4. Review past blogs. If you have a personal blog, re-read and analyze your content. While many employers consider blogging a plus, your tone, attitude, and interaction with others online will tell the larger picture of who you are as a person.
5. Google yourself. Sounds simple but this is where he Admissions Officer or employer will start. If you find negative content such as your name on blogs or blog comments, negative Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, or Twitter posts, or if you are tagged in any risky content, address the issue immediately. If you can delete, then delete. If you have to ask someone else to delete an inappropriate photo of you, then be persistent. While you are at it, change our privacy settings to prohibit tagging without your permission.
6. Inventory all social profiles. Choose the content you make public carefully so that a decision maker will be able to see only what you want them to see. Be sure to edit your About Page or Profile blurbs accordingly. Remove any movies, books, or affiliated groups that might reflect poorly on you. (For example, you may want to delete The Southpark Movie or a sexually explicit book or app). You may have items in your profile you “liked” four years ago that don’t reflect you today.
7. Edit your Twitter feed. Twitter is 140 characters of short copy blurbs that can often contain more emotion than fact. While it feels good (and harmless) at the time, the true impact of Twitter’s short, fast-moving blurbs can be deceptive. Tweets go viral quickly. And tweets can ruin lives if they are reckless. If you don’t want to make your feed private, be sure to remove any tweets that may be scrutinized such as racist, mean, arrogant, judgmental, sexual or crude. Also, go through your “following” and “followers” lists and sanitize. Don’t forget to cleanse your Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram accounts as well.
8. Secure Names and URLs. Cleaning up your online persona includes making sure your Twitter handle, Facebook name, and URL do not include profanity or slang. Be sure to check your name’s URL (i.e.: www.JohnSmith.com) and if no one else owns it, buy it. The last thing you need is an admissions officer or employer going to your site and being shocked by an adult film star who shares your same name. URL real estate is valuable (especially yours!) so if you don’t own your name, buy it at a site like GoDaddy.com now.
9. Change your online persona—for good. If cleaning up your profile has taken a big chunk of time to this point, it’s a sign you may need to commit to some permanent online changes. It’s never too late to turn your online conversations around—not only to influence decision makers — but also the rest of the professional world, of which you are now a part. Be sure to pepper your Twitter feed with some positive, useful content that reflects the person you aspire to be. If you feel the need to vent, rage, or be highly opinionated (to the point of hate), then start a private Tumblr or blog site. Better yet, buy a journal and a pen because nothing is private online. Relationships gone bad and digital betrayals happen every day so even content that lives behind a padlock can be screen shot and shared elsewhere online.
10. Start a career-focused Blog. Self-publishing a blog is an excellent tool if you are serious about putting yourself in the best light for college admissions or future jobs and a savvy way to control what information comes up first when others Google you. Remember, fresh content moves up on Google so blogging can help your personal brand and online persona immensely. You can start a no-cost blog at Blogger, Weebly, or WordPress and put the blog address on your application and invite admissions officers or employers to visit. Write blog posts that show off your strengths. Discuss your goals, academics, aspirations, and anything else that reflects your abilities and who you are as a person. Be sure to share your blog posts on Twitter or other feeds. If you need a community of positive young people to inspire you, visit A Platform for Good where you can learn about different ways to make a positive impact online.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).