How social media can damage your career

Some say posting too much personal information on social media can affect your career.Photo-illustration Nicole Witkowski

Some say posting too much personal information on social media can affect your career.Photo-illustration Nicole Witkowski

As classes wind down this week, many students and new graduates will use social media to find work. And although this networking tool can help you land a job, experts warn it can devastate a career before it even begins.

Mark Patterson is a business development adviser at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone. He’s a social media expert who knows all too well how social media can affect a career.

In one instance, he was about to hire someone, but after he looked at the candidate’s LinkedIn profile — an online curriculum vitae — he changed his mind.

“It definitely made an impression on me,” said Patterson. “The LinkedIn profile picture was very inappropriate and had a definite negative on my impression of the individual.”

Although social media is a personal and professional tool, Patterson said students should be mindful of jokes amongst friends. Grammar and spelling mistakes or anything that can be perceived as socially unacceptable can be harmful.

“The biggest mistake people make is that they don’t realize or accept that when they put something out there, they’re building a brand,” said Patterson. “Don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Toronto Star. That’s just the common rule.”

Tang Choy is an employability support counsellor at Ryerson’s Career Development and Employment Centre (CDEC). She recommends conducting regular Google searches and image searches of your name, usernames and emails. Prospective employees can change the spelling of their personal account so their names are not searchable.

“Whenever you are posting, keep this 80/20 rule in mind,” said Choy. “So 80 per cent of the time your posts should be beneficial to your community or your network. Twenty per cent of the time it can be a bit more self-promotional.”

Choy said self-promotional posts can include information about your new qualifications, networking events, and reminders that you are actively looking for work.

Choy said she knows a student who secured a position from social media.

He made connections in person, but he noticed a job posting on LinkedIn and then followed up with the recruiter on Twitter.

“Social media is just another tool that will complement the other tools you use with your job search,” said Choy. “So it’s not something that will replace all other job search methods, but it’s another great resource that you can use to help with what you’re already doing.”

Social media is all about first impressions. Choy suggests posting relevant articles, pictures and videos related to your expertise.

Another common mistake many young professionals make is lying to employers and being caught on social media. Patterson said he knows people who have been severely disciplined or let go for saying they were sick and then posting something on Facebook indicating they’re on vacation.

A high percentage of employers look at LinkedIn because it’s a professional networking tool. Large organizations often have formal policies on how to treat social media, while smaller organizations are far more likely to look at everything they can.

“It comes down to, would you be comfortable with potential employers coming across that account and what kind of image would they get?” said Choy.

Choy said Ryerson students can participate in career services offered by CDEC to improve their social media presence, such as LinkedIn Profile Advising.

Another tip to keep in mind is to remain consistent between platforms. Patterson said employers often compare the resumé you submit against your LinkedIn profile.

“A lot of people will have things on LinkedIn that they’ve removed from their resume because … it’s just not the way they want to position themselves so they should make sure that it’s consistent between the two.”

Patterson said most employers do not check the social media accounts of prospective employees to find a reason not to hire them. They are trying to make sure a candidate is the right fit for the organization.

“For example, if a company or organization highly values volunteerism and community services, those are types of things that they would appreciate seeing on your profile,” said Patterson. “If the brand you are building online is authentic and an employer doesn’t like it, then maybe that’s not the employer for you.”

Choy and Patterson suggest students should use social media regularly, especially when they are actively trying to seek employment and build a brand.

“You need to stand out from the crowd,” said Patterson. “Networking is one of the most important things you can do in your job search both online and offline.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 10, 2013.

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