Most of us use social media both personally and professionally. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We’ve probably posted thousands of pictures of ourselves and made many more comments that may be deemed controversial. And I bet we’ve all Googled ourselves (through curiosity or fear of what monstrosity of ourselves Google will present). Whatever our activity, we know this for sure: we each have a sizeable digital footprint, which is accessible to anyone who cares to search.
As we transition into a deeper digital world, employers naturally have begun to claim that part of the resourcing process is checking out our social media profiles which will form part of the hiring decision making. But do they really do that? No, but really, though? Do they really have the time? Well, it turns out they do. I know so because a recent episode of Dragons’ Den told me.
Two chaps who appeared on the show have set up a website that cleanses your biggest online sins. They will present a sterilised version of you so that, when would-be employers check you out, you gleam like a Colgate smile.
And I was quite surprised when the Dragons did invest £100,000 for a relatively tiny 2% of the business. Surprised as this revealed to me that big employers (like some of the Dragons) must indeed check candidates’ social media accounts when making hiring decisions. Indeed, a 2018 survey by CareerBuilder confirms that 7/10 employers do check your personal social media accounts.
The study found that 58% of employers conduct social screenings to look for information supporting a candidate's qualifications for the job, 50% want to ensure the candidate has a professional online persona, 34% want to see what other people are posting about the candidate and 24% of those surveyed actually check social media to search for reasons not to hire someone.
These are stats that would send shivers down the spine of any job-seeking Twitterholic. Especially one who likes to engage in activity deemed unacceptable by potential employers, which, according to Workopolis (a US site), are:
Drug use – 83% of employers say they are put off by references about using illegal drugs
Sex – 71% are put off by posts of a sexual nature
Swearing – 65% are put off by use of profanity
Poor English – 61% are put off by bad spelling or grammar
Booze – 47% are put off by photos of alcohol consumption
Interestingly, demonstrating poor grammar and spelling online appears to be more detrimental to your prospects than getting wasted. So if you’re going to post about your nights out on the tiles, the advice would be to make sure you spell everything correctly and use proper punctuation when you do so. Whatever you do, though, it would appear that someone, somewhere, will always be watching and judging. And who among us doesn’t swear, have sex, make the occasional linguistic slip or even consume more legal substances than we should? There are none of us Saints. So maybe it really is a good idea to get your digital footprint cleansed next time you have to start looking for a job, as it seems that you’ll never be good enough.
I don’t know, though. Should our paranoia about our employability really force us to sanitise our online selves in order to present a more professional version? Doesn’t that just feel like deleting a chunk of your real self? It raises all sorts of questions about documentation and the plotting of history. What’s real? What’s just a story? And it really starts to make the world a blander place, too! It used to be that documentation would embellish the reality of a person’s story to make it more interesting to future generations of interested parties. That’s how myths and legends were born! Now we’re doing the opposite, or at least being told we should. We’re ironing the unsightly wrinkles out of our lives so as not to excite the imagination. Even deleting our social media profiles altogether so as to avoid any unwanted scrutiny. It’s puzzling indeed.
Of course, you can always set your social media profiles to various levels of ‘private’ (I know I do). Which is a little bit more like real life – you share what you want with who you want. But doesn’t doing so only suggest that you might have something to hide to a nosy employer? So what’s the answer? Well, maybe you just have to take your chances – show your brilliance in spite of your more undesirable behaviours and hope that it comes through. Or maybe you might feel forced to think about your actual behaviours in real life – not just the posting of them (you might actually start to realise that you drink or swear too much and decide to become a little less ‘antisocial’). These seem to be the two most obvious routes of dealing with your ‘candidate brand’ (i.e. your reputation as a potential employee).
It’s definitely a world of two very distinct sides. But, because it’s virtual and can be manipulated by you so that you appear exactly as you wish to appear, it’s really almost entirely up to you which side you end up being on. Do you want to be a self-censoring wallflower who fits into a neat little box of blandness? Or do you want to be a loud-mouthed, aggressive, social media tornado who impresses by removing all the boundaries? It would appear that the choice is yours.