Stephen Logan

Can Social Media Activity Affect Career Prospects?

19th Aug 2010 Social Media 3 minutes to read

After Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, claimed that our social media past could be so damaging to future prospects that people would have to change their names, we take a look at just how true that may be.

More and more people are flocking to social media sites to share their lives with the world. Facebook has over 500 million active users, Twitter is heading towards 200 million rapidly, which all means that a fair chunk of the general populous are active in the microblogosphere.

In the most part status updates will range from banality to irreverence. Explaining that you’re shampooing your dog will probably only be of interest to a few people and is unlikely to damage your future chances. Criticising your bosses on the other hand could be your ticket to long-term unemployment.

The trouble comes when you share thoughts without actually thinking of the consequences. It’s out there in the public domain. Much of it can’t be undone either. Whether tagged in a provocative photo or sharing your thoughts on controversial subjects, it all reflects on you [see: How Much Information is Too Much Information Online?].

Employers are wise to this. Of course they are. The more information they can find out about a candidate, the less time they waste during interviews. Social media often says more about you than you ever intended.

It is a peephole into your interests, attitudes, prejudices, personality and professionalism [as evidenced in A President, A Senator and the Dangers of Social Media]. You don’t need to be a psychologist to work it out. If you choose to share something, it’s out there and it can be difficult to retrieve.

Of course you can make your profiles private, untag images and delete embarrassing posts. But there can be a legacy issue. Cache can be a dangerous thing, allowing people to access deleted items that you thought were long gone. Your trail can sometimes lead directly to you without even realising it.

Could this affect your chances of gaining employment later on? Well of course it could. To the extent where you might consider changing your name? Probably not.

Everybody has skeletons in their closet. Social media provides a way of publicly archiving them though [see: Football Offers up Two More Online Own Goals]. If eagle-eyed employers take the time to search for your profiles and are able to access your latest updates, you want to make sure there’s nothing you wouldn’t want them to know plastered on your pages.

Of course you don’t want to be sharing thoughts with one eye on the future all the time. Whilst you might want to tone down your profiles, social media is supposed to be about personality. If you suppress your opinions and language, suddenly you’re not yourself anymore.

What happens in the past won’t necessarily stay there though. Which is why a generation of young Tweeters and Facebook users need to be wary. Eric Schmidt is entirely incorrect in this. By the time teenagers now get to an employable age, they could have many years of history ready and waiting for somebody to review. This could create a culture of long-term culpability.

Just imagine the interview of the future:

Interviewer – “So why didn’t you manage to get the grades you wanted?”
Interviewee – “Well I worked hard and unfortunately had an issue with…”
Interviewer – “…Sorry to interrupt, but your Facebook status says ‘can’t believe I passed, three years of heavy drinking have paid off’ how would you explain that?”.
Interviewee – “Well, err…”
Interviewer – “Would you say you were a reliable candidate?”

Businesses should be more interested in LinkedIn profiles than what they might have said on Facebook, but if it’s available, why not? The easy answer to that is to make your profiles private. Avoid the issue altogether. Or of course you could just not use social media at all, no problems at all then.

It’s a little strange though that the head of Google chose to target social media users about responsibility when his company is likely to be rolling out its own platform soon – Google Me. Yet another opportunity for society to share its loves, hates, thoughts and angst. Providing another opportunity for employers to find out more.

So if you follow Mike’s advice in his 13 Ways to find SEO jobs blog post, you might also want to make sure your online identity is in order. Clear out your skeletons and add a little professionalism to your social profile. It can’t hurt, can it?

Choose your friends and words wisely.

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