Relationship expert Blaire Allison was ecstatic when she was recruited to cohost a Florida radio dating show and answer callers' questions as “The Love Guru."
She’d aced the first round of interviews and even taped a trial segment, which the producers loved.
That’s why what happened next came as such a surprise.
She was in the editing room, mapping out the show, when her cohost was suddenly called away for a meeting. Upon his return, he informed her that the job offer was being rescinded.
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When Allison pressed him for more information, he revealed that her social media footprint was the source of contention.
Allison ran an event planning business on the side, specializing in playful, semi-racy girls’ nights out for birthdays and bachelorette parties. But when the radio station’s conservative director stumbled across some PG-13 event photos she'd posted online, he decided hiring her wasn’t worth the risk of losing advertisers.
“I was upset—I really wanted that job,” Allison says. “I was also surprised because I thought the pictures were just innocent fun—there was no nudity or obscenity.”
Think this disappointing experience couldn't happen to you?
Well, as it turns out, it's actually quite common—especially in media and tech companies, where the internet is an integral part of the office culture. In fact, in a 2014 Jobvite survey, 55% of recruiters admitted to reconsidering candidates based on their social media profiles.
“A lot of people put things out there without realizing the ramifications,” says David Blacker, a Tampa-based 20-year veteran headhunter and founder of Venerate Media Group, a company that provides social media and PR services. “The internet is a living, breathing entity that goes on indefinitely, and assessing a candidate’s social media presence is one of the top things recruiters do.”
To help you from getting burned by an internet blunder, we've rounded up six social media behaviors that could alienate a recruiter during your job search. Learn why they send the wrong message—and what you can do instead to come out looking supremely hirable.
Recruiter Confession #1: Badmouthing Employers or Coworkers
If you think Sunday night Twitter rants ending in “#hatemyjob” are harmless enough, think again. Gossiping about colleagues or your company—even former ones—is a major turn-off for potential employers.
Need some proof? A 2014 CareerBuilder survey found that 36% of hiring managers have passed on a candidate for this very reason.
Putting down your workplace in the public sphere reflects badly on you because it makes recruiters doubt whether you’re a team player who’s going to support the organization. After all, if you had no qualms complaining about your last job, what’s to stop you from doing the same thing in the future?
“People often use social media as a forum to vent their frustrations,” Blacker says. “But the only time you should reference your company or a coworker online is to be a cheerleader. Anything else will have negative repercussions.”
And while you’re at it, put the brakes on dishing about the job search process—at all.
Shayleen Stuto, a talent coordinator for TechnologyAdvice in Nashville, once nixed a top candidate who mocked the hiring organization’s application process by tweeting: One should never ask a college grad, "What makes you unique?" #givemeajob #hiremeformyhumor.
“Her humor was lost on me," Stuto says. "So we didn’t pursue the candidate further."
According to a 2013 study, pregnant job candidates typically receive more interpersonal discrimination from employers, such as attempts to end the conversation prematurely.
Recruiter Confession #2: Getting Too Personal
Theoretically, you should be able to dish about your private life and hobbies on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And for the most part, you can—employers aren’t likely to count you out based on your passion for LOLCats.
Still, sharing certain personal information online can come back to bite you.
Take religion, for example. A 2014 Carnegie Mellon study that analyzed how hiring behavior is affected by what employers find online about candidates discovered significant discrimination against Muslim applicants relative to Christians.
“I’m not a proponent of mentioning religion on social media because of this potential bias,” Blacker says.
Pregnancy is another hot-button topic. According to a 2013 Rice University study, pregnant job candidates typically receive more interpersonal discrimination from employers, such as rude treatment, attempts to end the conversation prematurely, and such dismissive facial expressions as pursed lips and furrowed eyebrows.
“Employers can’t legally preclude people for this reason," Blacker explains. "But if they don’t want to hire you, they can just give you a stock answer about picking another candidate, who they determined was a better fit.”
All that said, plenty of people still feel strongly about posting personal things, including religious topics and new family additions. If that's important to you, make sure to double-check that your privacy settings are air-tight, so only your close network can view your updates.
Recruiter Confession #3: Contradictory Posts
The candidate’s story was heart-wrenching: She had to quit her job because she was injured in a car accident and unable to return from a leave of absence.
“But shortly thereafter, the hiring manager found pictures of her waterskiing on vacation, which told a slightly different version of the story,” says Liz D’Aloia, founder of the Dallas-based mobile recruiting company HR Virtuoso. “That's exactly how posting on social media can knock you out of the running.”
Blacker has also passed on an applicant he caught in a lie, when after a little sleuthing, he found a tweet proving the man who'd claimed he'd been laid off had actually been dismissed for cause.
“Part of preparing for an interview these days is to ensure that every piece of information you put out there is something you want people to see,” Blacker says. This is why he recommends parsing through your social media history with a fine-toothed comb whenever you're job hunting.
According to a Jobvite survey, 66% of recruiters have rejected a candidate due to a poor grasp of proper English.
Recruiter Confession #4: Spelling and Grammar Mistakes
Who cares if you know the correct spelling of independent or the difference between effect and affect?
Hiring managers—that’s who. According to the Jobvite survey, 66% of recruiters have rejected a candidate due to a poor grasp of proper English.
“This is a big red flag to me because it's a sign of ignorance,” says Nick Corcodilos, headhunter and blogger at AskTheHeadhunter. “Most people are thoughtful about their spelling and grammar on professional websites, but mistakes emerge more frequently when they’re writing casual social media posts on the fly.”
If you're prone to make such mistakes, Corcodilos suggests a quick fix—using spell-check as much as possible by pasting your tweets or Facebook posts into a Word document before shooting them off.
Another tip: Hit up Correctica.com, a site that will proof your webpage, résumé or blog post for under-the-radar mistakes—free of charge.
Recruiter Confession #5: Questionable Content
Headhunters have seen it all on social media, from profanity—which triggered 63% to second-guess a candidate, according to Jobvite—to illegal drug references (83%) to sexual posts (70%).
“One bad word or a stray picture of you out drinking isn’t going to worry me,” Corcodilos says. “But if a consistent pattern emerges—for instance, you’re totally snockered in picture after picture—I’ll wonder whether this is an issue that will affect your ability to do the job.”
It also raises questions about your judgment. “And having good judgment is everything,” Corcodilos says. “Your reputation is based on how you present yourself—it’s your stock-in-trade.”
To deep-clean your social media presence, put yourself in a potential employer’s shoes and scroll through what’s out there. “Ask yourself, 'If I were a hiring manager, would I bring myself in for an interview?' ” Corcodilos says.
And be sure to do a Google search for your name periodically to see what comes up—using your full name, in quotation marks, along with parameters like the school you attended, places of employment, or cities you’ve lived in.
“This is especially important if you have a common name,” Blacker notes. You know, because it’s harder to scour the web for dirt on a “John Smith” than a “Zelma Vipido.”
If anything unsavory pops up, reach out to the person who posted the info and ask them to remove it, or bolster your online reputation by churning out more positive content on Twitter, your personal blog and LinkedIn.
“Unless it’s a government document, the negative content will move down as you add new information,” explains Blacker.
“You can be whoever you want to be on the internet, so be the kind of person you can be proud of."
Recruiter Confession #6: Being a Bully
A snarky tone might work for Gawker.com stories and Jon Stewart—but not so much for job hopefuls.
CareerBuilder found that 28% of employers dropped a candidate due to discriminatory comments about race, gender or religion.
While it’s no huge shocker that being a bigot will lose you points, even something said in jest can come off completely wrong online—partly because viewers won’t know your sense of humor as well as close friends.
Blacker recently rejected a candidate who posted a racist comment on her personal Twitter feed with the hashtag #blackhistorymonth. “Her byline in her Twitter profile is, ‘Relax, I’m joking,’ but I was understandably hesitant,” he says.
To buffer yourself against unintentionally seeming like a jerk, follow this rule of thumb: “You can be whoever you want to be on the internet, so be the kind of person you can be proud of,” Corcodilos says. “Raise the standards of your behavior, and write things that will be helpful and make others feel good.”
This will prove to headhunters that you're a team player—and likely to bring the same spirit to the workplace community.