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Updated Nov 20, 2023

Keep It Clean: Social Media Screenings Gain in Popularity

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

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David Cotriss, Contributing Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Your personal social media profiles can potentially seriously affect your professional life.

“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. [Read related article: Tips for Creating 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.

In a survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 70 percent of the employers who responded said they believe every company should screen candidates’ social media profiles during the hiring process. Moreover, 78 percent of employers believe that current employees should maintain a work-appropriate social media profile.

And it’s not just job candidates who are at-risk if they post certain content on social media; it’s also current employees. In a survey conducted by Express Employment Professionals, an overwhelming majority of employers said they would fire existing employees for posting certain social media content. 

So, what are hiring managers and employers looking for when screening candidates’ and employees’ social media profiles? Generally, they’re looking for red flags that include the sharing of illegal activities, offensive comments, violent or aggressive behavior, sexually explicit material, and confidential information.

Did You Know?Did you know
A reported 88 percent of employers and hiring managers would fire an employee for posting certain kinds of social media content that was posted on their personal account.

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: As a highly visual social media platform, it’s important to select images and videos that won’t land you in hot water on Instagram. Keep your page professional and positive to give potential employers a sense of your attitude and personality. This extends beyond what you post and into content from other users that you share as publicly viewable stories.
  • 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 it 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 major social media platform, and employers often check it. 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. Of course, you should make sure your content is appropriate and professional in order to survive a social media screening.
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, the best practice is 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, VP 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 percent of them look for information that supports a candidate’s qualifications to get them through the door. 

You can use your social media profiles to promote content that shows your knowledge, professionalism and commitment to growth – characteristics that any employer will want to see. If you’re truly passionate about your career, share your accomplishments and interesting content from others in the same space as well. This will showcase your personal interest in the job and encourage employers about your ability to perform and grow in the role you’re applying for.

3. Google yourself.

Every few weeks or months, take a minute to Google yourself in an incognito window. 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 things 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.

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.”

[Read related article: Types of Background Checks Employers Should Run]

What to avoid on social media

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

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 something 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.

While these tips are geared toward job seekers, the results of the Express Employment Professionals survey also make clear that existing employees should take this advice to heart. Not only are employers sometimes monitoring their employees’ social media behavior, but future employers may conduct social media screenings as well.

Think before you post

Social media is an extension of yourself, and although it sometimes feels like cyberspace is detached from the real world, your actions online can have consequences for your professional life. When creating and sharing content on your social media profiles, stop and take a moment to think about how it may reflect on you beyond your immediate friend group. If a potential employer were to see it during a screening, would it harm your chances of landing that big job you’ve been hoping for? If so, consider not sharing it in the first place, or at the very least creating separate profiles for recreational posting and setting them to private.

Tejas Vemparala and Nicole Fallon contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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David Cotriss, 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.
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