How your social media footprint can affect your future

We all have an unflattering photo we hope doesn’t see the light of day.

Before the days of Facebook and Snapchat, it wasn’t too difficult to bury these photos away, only having to deal with them resurfacing at birthdays and other family occasions.

Now it’s a hell of a lot easier for these photos and other social media posts to not only be made public, but also catch the eye of our future employers.

93% of Australian and New Zealand employers are screening prospective employees’ social media accounts. So just what does your social media footprint say about you? We spoke with Careers Consultant Renée Smith about how your online presence may be affecting your job opportunities.

Avoid major social media faux pas

A picture is worth a thousand words – so make sure your photos are telling the right story.

“Employers are using social media more and more often,” said Renée. “Not only are they using it to advertise their own organisations, but they use it to recruit, so why not put your best foot forward on all of your social media platforms to attract (rather than repel) an employer.”

Once a photo has been posted online, it tends to hang around the digital world forever. So if you never properly deleted the photos from your MySpace account, get onto it ASAP.

Your photos and videos can still show you having a good time, but remember to use common sense. You don’t need a photo from a wild night out in 2014 getting in the way of your dream job. When online, work of the assumption that anything uploaded will remain in the public domain long-term and act accordingly.

Social media expert and Manager of Student Communication and Information at the University of Newcastle, Susannah Lynch, recommends you follow one simple rule: The Grandma Test.

“Before you post something online, think to yourself ‘would I be happy having my Grandma see this?’ If not, you probably should steer clear of uploading it.”

It’s not just images of yourself you need to be worried about. If you upload a photo of someone in a compromising position or with the intention to ridicule them – think about how this reflects on your social conscience.

Some basic things to avoid include:

  • Offensive pictures that include drunken behaviour, nudity, self-harm, violence, drug use and overly suggestive images of yourself and others.
  • Illegal behaviour.
  • Fake images or anything that suggests you’re not who you say you are.

Thinking of trolling? Think again.

Most employers will have some kind of code of conduct they expect all employees to abide by. For example, here at Uni of Newcastle all students and staff are bound by the Code of Conduct which is in place to prevent bullying, harassment and prejudicial treatment. As part of this Code of Conduct values such as honesty, fairness, accountability and respect are enforced. You are also bound by other policies such as the Social Media Policy and the Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy.

Each time you comment on a post or news article you are projecting your opinions to the world. So before you press ‘enter’, think about whether your comment could be considered harmful or breach ethical standards.

If you are found to be in breach of the University’s Code of Conduct or their other policies there are significant consequences. Student misconduct may result in a warning, fine, requirement to issue an apology, counselling or training, suspension, expulsion or legal action.

According to Renée, it goes without saying to always avoid “messages of hate whether it is of an individual, yourself, minority groups” and “threatening messages or images…including those that suggest attacks on any level (don’t even try to be funny about this sort of thing).”

Another thing which is an absolute no-no is badmouthing your current employer. Aside from getting your boss offside, it also makes you appear unprofessional and can jeopardise future job opportunities.

Be wary of those around you (and their phones)

Remember to be mindful of is who is taking photos of you. For young people it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a situation where a phone is pointed at you.

While the person with the phone may be your friend, they might not always have your best interests at heart. You have to ask yourself – where might that photo or video end up? No one should have to feel like their privacy is being invaded.

In order to stop these photos from ending up on your social media, Renée recommends “blocking some friends from adding to your timeline so you can review the posts you are tagged in before they appear on your profile”. Also, if you ever feel uncomfortable with someone recording you – tell them. This isn’t behaviour you should tolerate.

Check your privacy settings

Facebook often changes its privacy policies, meaning it is incredibly important to regularly check your settings.

“How much of your Facebook activity an employer sees is up to you,” Renée said.

“It’s important to get your settings right because employers and recruiters do actually look at social media for prospective and new employees.”

As a general rule, it’s best to have your Facebook so only friends can see your posts. If you’re unsure of how your profile appears to the public, click on the ‘view as’ option when on your page.

Don’t forget to check all your other social media platforms as well such as Instagram, Twitter and personal blogs. If you see anything inappropriate – remove it.

Create your own brand

Many of us have joked from time to time that our Facebook stalking skills rival that of a private investigator. Well time to put those skills to good use and do a Google search of yourself.

Imagine you are an employer viewing this content. Would you hire the person you’re looking at?

Add social media to your employment arsenal and create a brand you can be proud of.

You can do this by separating your professional and personal profiles online. Renée recommends setting up a LinkedIn account, professional blog or a website highlighting your work.

“You need to make sure you are using the right platforms and presenting the right image for your particular industry,” she said. “If you have unprofessional material that you don’t really want employers to see coming up within your first three pages of a Google search, create more positive posts that push this old material further down the search results list.”

Remember – always be clear about what you post online, as ultimately this can be the difference between you landing the job and it being given to the next candidate.

Looking to boost your employability? Have a chat with one of the University’s Careers Consultants. 

Feature image by William Iven on Unsplash

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