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Keep It Clean: Social Media Screenings Gain in Popularity

David Cotriss
David Cotriss
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Looking for your next job? Make sure your social media profiles are safe for work, because employers are screening candidates' presence online.

  • Keeping your personal social media profiles professional and appropriate is an incredibly important part of your job search (and retaining your job once you’ve gotten one).
  • Over three-quarters of hiring professionals believe that checking a candidate’s or employee’s social media profile is an acceptable way to vet them.
  • There are many ways to make sure that your social media is appropriate for the workplace, starting with avoiding anything violent, profane, explicit or illegal.
  • This article is for job seekers who want to make sure that their social media profiles enhance their job search rather than hurt it.

Your personal social media profiles can potentially seriously affect your professional life. In a 2020 survey by The Harris Poll, 70% of the employers who responded said they believe every company should screen candidates’ social media profiles during the hiring process. Moreover, 78% of employers believe that current employees should maintain a work-appropriate social media profile.

“Because we tend to view our personal social media accounts as being ‘personal,’ there’s a good chance that by viewing someone’s profile, you’ll get a glimpse into their personality beyond the resume,” said DeeAnn Sims-Knight, founder of Dark Horse PR. [Related content: How to Create a Great Resume]

What is a social media screening?

A social media screening is usually done prior to employment, when a candidate is applying for a job. It involves researching a prospect’s social media profiles and their activity, including what they post, like and comment on. Some of the platforms they are likely to check are LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and WhatsApp.

Generally, employers are looking for any red flags. These could include the sharing of illegal activities, offensive comments, violent or aggressive behavior, sexually explicit material, or confidential information.

Which social media channels can employers check?

Audit your social media accounts before applying for a position. While it’s important to check every account, there are some platforms hiring managers are more likely to check, such as LinkedIn.

“The three main platforms that most employers check are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter,” said Matt Erhard, managing partner of Summit Search Group. “I am personally most interested in the candidate’s LinkedIn profile, as it’s the most relevant.”

Most employers view LinkedIn as a secondary resume, and some even post jobs on LinkedIn. However, they are still likely to check other social media channels – such as Instagram. In addition to what you’re posting, make sure you are cognizant of who you follow and how they are interacting with your content.

“When I check a candidate’s Facebook or Twitter, my aim is more to get a sense of them as a person than to look for damaging information,” Erhard said.

Here are some details about the major social media outlets:

  • Instagram: Compared to the other social media channels, Instagram gives you a little more control over what is posted on your page. Keep your page professional and positive to give potential employers a sense of your attitude and personality.
  • Twitter: Unless your profile is set to private, anyone can view what you post on Twitter and the other tweets that you like or reply to. Setting your profile to private prevents potential employers from seeing your content on Twitter, but may eliminate an opportunity to make a favorable impression.
  • Facebook: Facebook is often seen as a more secure form of social media, because only people you are friends with can typically see your profile – if your settings are private. However, you still want to make sure that you are keeping tabs on what users post to your wall, tag you in and comment on your posts.
  • TikTok: TikTok is quickly becoming a platform that employers often check. If you create videos on the app, it helps your potential employer get a sense of who you are and how you might work with others at the company.

TipTip: Showcase your positive personality traits on your social media profiles to be an effective applicant. Just one negative impression from your social media profile could disqualify you from a position.

Tips for passing social media screenings

Follow these tips to benefit from potential employers performing social media screenings.

1. Don’t erase your profile.

While the fear of something embarrassing or negative being discovered might tempt some job candidates to completely erase their online persona, employers say that strategy can backfire.

About 1 in 5 employers in The Harris Poll’s survey said they won’t call a person for an interview if they can’t find them online. In addition to seeming like you’re trying to hide something, it’s not a good idea to delete your profile because it doesn’t guarantee the data is completely gone. Instead, it’s best practice to keep your social accounts clean and up to date.

“Erasing all of your profiles often implies that you have something to hide,” said Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation. “Many LinkedIn or Instagram accounts may still show up in Google searches [after you delete them], even on a cached basis.”

2. Use social media to your benefit.

Despite what job candidates might think, most employers are looking for reasons to hire someone. The Harris Poll surveyed over 1,000 employers and found that 67% of them look for information that supports a candidate’s qualifications to get them through the door. [Including your social media handles on your resume shows employers that you’re confident in your online presence.]

“Work to keep your social media accounts current, especially LinkedIn, to reflect your current work experience and accomplishments,” said John Calabrese, an Express Employment Professionals franchise owner, in an interview with The Harris Poll.

If you want to learn more, read our guide on what to post online to optimize your digital job search.

3. Google yourself.

Every few weeks or months, take a minute to Google yourself. This is likely where your employer is going to start when they take a look at your online presence, so it’s good to know what will pop up. This will also help you get ahead of anything negative, so you can make sure all the top search results are something you would be fine with your employer seeing.

You might even consider setting up Google alerts for yourself, so if anything new pops up you’ll know right away. If everything remains positive, you’re good to go. If there is something you’d rather erase, there are companies you can work with to help improve your online presence.

TipTip: Social media is one of many ways that you can improve your chances of getting hired. In addition to maintaining the proper online presence, you can use these apps to your advantage to show off your personality and work ethic.

How to make your profiles private

Since it’s legal for employers to check public social media accounts, consider creating at least one account for professional purposes and keeping personal accounts private.

“One of the best strategies I have seen is creating multiple, separate social media accounts on social media platforms,” Case said. “Job seekers may have a professional Instagram account, for instance, where they share their office and work wins. They may also have a more private personal account that is locked and only allows a select number of individuals to follow it.”

Be wary of hiring managers requesting information beyond what’s available online. This is similar to employers asking inappropriate questions during interviews, and should raise a red flag about the firm.

“I have heard of employers asking candidates to provide their password and login credentials for social media,” Erhard said. “This is not technically illegal in many places, though, in my mind, it’s an uncomfortable invasion of privacy.”

Does social media show up on background checks?

Social media accounts don’t typically show up on background checks. Most background checks include employment history, credit information and legal problems. However, there may be some cases where social accounts show up on a social media background check.

“There are companies that run social media-based background checks, but that is a separate paid service,” Erhard added. “While I’m aware of its existence, I don’t personally know any employers who have utilized that kind of service.”

What to avoid on social media

The study found that a whopping 55% of employers who use social media screenings said they have found content that caused them not to hire a candidate.

“They should be free of profanity and inappropriate photos,” Calabrese said. “Remove any posts that may contain personal attacks. It’s OK to share your views, but keep them professional and appropriate.”

Follow these guidelines from The Harris Poll’s survey to keep your online presence professional:

  1. Avoid posting anything potentially offensive. If you wouldn’t bring in a particular picture and post it in your cubicle, or say it at the workplace, remove it from your public page.
  2. Be purposeful in your posts. Ask yourself: What is my goal with posting this? Is this best for a private or public page?
  3. Keep it simple: Remember that less is more in your public profiles.
  4. Never complain about employers or colleagues – past or present – on social media.

You shouldn’t ease up on your online presence once you land a job, either. The study found that 78% of employers use social networking sites to research current employees.

Saige Driver, Nicole Fallon and Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: Iamstocker / Getty Images
David Cotriss
David Cotriss
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
David Cotriss is an award-winning writer of over 500 news and feature articles for both trade and consumer publications focusing on business and technology topics.