How to make sure social media doesn’t cost you a job

When cricketer Ollie Robinson was suspended from the England team for past racist and sexist tweets, it sparked a national debate about social media that went right up to the prime minister.

But more and more employers are taking an interest in the online life of their staff and prospective hires and it’s a trend that shows no sign of stopping.

In some cases that means using sophisticated screening companies that trawl your social media posts for anything that might embarrass the company.

Other employers use online posts to get an idea of potential recruits’ personality, cultural fit and even their creativity.

So how can you ensure your social media is an asset and not a liability for your career? We checked out what screening companies, employers and experts had to say.

Screening companies search for positive and negative factors

One company that specialises in sorting through social media of job applicants – on average, seven accounts per person – is Eurocom CI. It says social media offers “a vast amount of insight into their character, interests and endeavours” to employers. Checks focus mainly on flagging up negative factors, it tells employers, sorted into extreme views, discriminatory behaviour, illegal activities, inappropriate conduct, potential addiction or substance abuse, sexually explicit conduct and violent conduct. But a couple of factors can weigh in a candidate’s favour, such as charity work or volunteering.

Clear your social media of these red flags

Employers have their own idea of social media posts that put them off a potential recruit. A survey by CareerBuilder found more than half had not hired someone because of online behaviour. Among the most common reasons were “provocative or inappropriate” posts, drinking or drugs, discriminatory posts or details of criminal behaviour. But they also found issues directly tied to job performance: lying about qualifications, poor communication skills, bad-mouthing of former employers and breaches of confidence.

Don’t delete everything

It may seem like social media isn’t worth the risk. But deleting your online presence to play it safe can be a red flag in itself, particularly if you’re trying to break into fields like technology and media. Dawn Edmiston, professor of marketing at the College of William and Mary, told “I would definitely wonder about the background of a tech professional who had zero presence on social media.” Instead, she suggests keeping a balance of public and private in social media: with public-facing profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and keeping your Facebook or Instagram for friends only.

Accentuate the positive

So how can you make your social media attractive to employers? A survey of hiring managers by the recruitment company Jobvite found that cultural fit was the most common thing they were searching for, with 51% mentioning it. They see social media as a more authentic representation of who you are than your interview answers. Finding out more about your qualifications was a goal for 45% of employers, so social media can be a great place to show off the communications skills your CV touts. And 44% want to see evidence of creativity.