How Facebook Can Hurt Your Job Hunt (It’s Not Because of Racy Photos)

Woman takes a photo for social media while job hunting.
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When’s the last time you Googled yourself?

The practice may feel vain and self-indulgent. But if you’re in the market for a job, it might be as necessary as updating your resume and polishing your cover letter.

You need to know the story your online presence and social media tell about you — because potential employers are probably reading it.

Over the past decade, however, that story’s importance has grown exponentially.

Employers are Checking Your Social Media

Sixty percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, according to an annual CareerBuilder study. That’s up from just 11% in 2006.

Almost as many — 59% — look you up on search engines you when you apply for a job.

“Tools such as Facebook and Twitter enable employers to get a glimpse of who candidates are outside the confines of a resume or cover letter,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder.

We’ve heard about these practices from career professionals for years. As a result, many job seekers have dramatically limited their online presence.

The Biggest Mistake You Might Be Making Online

But if you’re hiding your personal life by guarding your online presence entirely, you could be hurting your chances with potential employers.

A surprising 41% of employers say they’re less likely to interview you if they don’t find any information about you online.

So you could be better off sharing too much than too little.

Before you panic and start reposting your Facebook photos, there’s some good news.

Most employers — 60% — are looking for information that supports your qualifications for the job… not seeking ways to incriminate you.

And the results can be positive. About one-third of employers who said they screen candidates via social networks have found information that prompted them to hire someone, including:

  • Background information that supports your job qualifications
  • Professionalism
  • Personality that fits company culture
  • Proof of a range of interests
  • Great communication skills

However, 21% admit they’re looking for reasons not to hire you. And half the hiring managers who use social media to screen candidates have found something that kept them from hiring a candidate. Yikes.

But the things hiring managers cite as turn-offs in your online presence aren’t shocking:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photos, videos or other information
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Discriminatory comments
  • Talking badly about fellow employees or former company
  • Poor communication skills

How to Create an Online Presence Employers Will Love

So, hiring managers are almost definitely looking you up online, and you better make sure they find something when they do.

How do you ensure they like what they find?

1. Tailor Your Online Presence to the Type of Company You Want to Work For

First, there’s no magic formula for the perfect social media presence.

It’s a reflection of your personality, so it has to fit who you are and what kind of job you want.

I, for one, wouldn’t want to work for anyone who didn’t appreciate my online candor.

Other employers lean the opposite way, you might guess, and don’t want employees who flaunt their less-professional side online.

2. Focus on LinkedIn

If you’re unsure, stick with LinkedIn for now.

Being present and active on that network can show potential employers you’re serious about your job search without revealing too much.

And there’s little chance of a tactless friend or angry cousin sullying your profile with provocative photos or comments.

3. Use Privacy Settings Strategically

If you’re more certain of your personal brand and want to let potential employers vet you on more personal sites like Facebook and Instagram, get to know their privacy features.

For example, on Facebook, you can choose post-by-post who will see your content. Be smart about the content you make public and with which groups of friends you share the most revealing posts.

4. Make Sure You’re Sharing Something

You’re probably better off being choosy and making some content public than hiding everything.

Thirty-six percent of employers who screen via social media want to get to know you so badly they’ll send you a friend request even if your account is private.

Deciding whether or not to accept could become awkward! Avoid it by keeping strategic posts public.

5. Google Yourself — Often

The best way to know what someone will find when they search your name online is to — can you guess? — search your name online.

Facebook lets you view your profile as anyone you choose. So you can see what your mom sees, what your friends see and what the public sees when they land on your profile.

Google yourself in a private or incognito window to find out what strangers might see.

You can also set up Google Alerts for your name and get a daily or weekly report of where you show up online, or search your name at IceRocket to see who’s talking about you on blogs and Twitter.

Social Media Vetting Continues to Grow

“With more and more people using social media, it’s not unusual to see the usage for recruitment to grow as well,” said Haefner.

And usage has grown year after year. The share of employers vetting through social media has gone from 11% in 2006 to 22% in 2008 to 52% just last year.

As we all pour more of our time, personalities and history into our online presence, we can only expect those numbers to continue to grow.

Whether you’re actively seeking a job now or not, stay aware of the story you’re presenting — so it doesn’t come around to bite you when it’s too late.

Your Turn: Have you been accepted or denied from a job opportunity because of social media?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post,, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).