Why Veteran Job Seekers Should Clean Up Their Social Media

(U.S. Army photo)

Your Facebook timeline is yours, right? Only you get to decide who you connect with on LinkedIn, correct? And it's no one else's business what you comment on online, right?

The truth is, while you are entitled and empowered to have your own social media profiles and run them as you wish (within the rules of the platform), what you do with those online profiles becomes everyone's business when you share too much personal information.

Or the wrong information.

Here are some examples of "innocent" social media posts that can have negative consequences:

Robert is so happy for his colleague, June. They share a work cubicle, and he has lived through her -- and her husband's -- expensive and painful journey to conceive a child.

  • One day, June shares with Robert that in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment finally worked and she's due to deliver a child in September. Overjoyed for his colleague, Robert posts his congratulations to June on Facebook. June hadn't told her family yet, and they unfortunately found out online.
  • Jill was thrilled that after months of searching, she finally landed her dream job. With only three weeks until her start date, she counted the minutes until she could resign. In fact, she was so ready to make the change that she wanted to see what an updated company name and title on her LinkedIn profile would look like. She didn't realize that she'd saved the update and walked away from her computer. Jill also forgot she was connected to her boss on LinkedIn and was escorted out of the building the next day.
  • Brad typically kept to himself at work. He was good at his job as a project manager for an aerospace company, consistently delivering quality work. On his "off hours," Brad followed various controversial groups online and occasionally attended rallies and meetings to help advance the causes they were all passionate about. At one such rally, Brad appeared in a photo, holding a handmade sign, spewing vulgarities at opponents of the issue. That photo went viral, eventually making its way to Brad's boss' desk.​​​​
  • Rebecca called in sick on Friday. Then, she posted a photo of herself by the pool on Instagram. She had a note from her boss to come to his office Monday morning.

Yes, your social profiles are yours. You add photos, articles, messages and content that is meaningful to you and the people you're connected to. But to think that your online posts, and the activities and comments you share, could not impact your professional lives is naive.

We Can't Unsee That

Many companies admit that while they may view a job applicant's online profiles for more information and insight about the individual, they do not purposefully include online content in their candidacy evaluation. While that's great for applicants who haven't been mindful about what they post online, reality is that you can't unsee what someone has posted.

Nothing Is Private

I heard a colleague once say, "if you don't want your mother, your priest or your boss to see it, don't post it online." Anyone can take a screenshot of your photo, post, comment and retain it or pass it along. The risks are high.

A negative online presence could impact your:

  • Promotability -- "Is he really management material if he posts those kinds of images?"
  • Hirability -- "Do we want people in our company who could be so reckless with their social media profiles?"
  • Refer-ability -- "Am I willing to endorse or refer her if she could go online and possibly say negative things about me?"

Instead of assuming you have privacy, be considerate and intentional about what you post online to ensure your reputation stays intact.

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