While you’re busy checking out what friends and people you follow on social media are posting and maybe even using these sites to build your network, you might not be aware that there are people who are paying more attention than you’d expect to what you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms. No, not trolls looking to pick fights online. The social media stalkers you really need to worry about are employers.
A survey by CareerBuilder found that 70% of employers are snooping job candidates’ social media profiles as part of the screening process. They’re also paying attention to current employees’ activities online. Sure, using social media effectively can help to advance your career, but posting the wrong things can come back to haunt you. That’s why it’s important to learn about the social media mistakes that could cause you to not get hired.
Mistake: Posting About a New Job Before Resigning
While working as the executive vice president of media and audience engagement for a company, Angela Connor had an employee who posted on Facebook about how excited she was to be starting fresh at a new job. However, that job was with another company, and that employee hadn’t submitted a resignation letter yet for her current position.
“I later learned that she’d believed she excluded those at the company whom she was friends with and that the information was safe,” said Connor, who now is the founder and CEO of Change Agent Communications.
Lesson: Don’t Assume Anything Is Private on Social Media
Connor confronted the employee who shared news of her new job on Facebook before resigning. She told her that she shouldn’t expect anything to be private on social media. “You don’t know who knows whom and what their privacy settings might be,” Connor said. “And you should never underestimate all of the screenshots being snapped and shared with friends of friends of friends, who just might know your VP or someone else at your company and quickly change all of that delight to dismay.”
Connor also shared an important lesson about quitting with that former employee. “If you’re going to resign, do it before telling everyone,” she said.
Mistake: Sharing Questionable Behavior Online
When the energy company he works for was hiring a senior analyst, Riley Adams was asked by his manager to review the top two candidates’ social media profiles to get a sense of who they were outside of work. “One appeared innocuous enough and well-suited for an office environment,” said Adams, a senior financial analyst and founder of the blog Young and the Invested. “The other, however, had multiple photos containing highly questionable actions.”
That candidate had several pictures on social media showing drug use, one with inappropriate hand gestures and a post with politically charged content. “After looking through some of his comments left elsewhere, he had some words which could incite controversy with people in the office,” Adams said. “While everyone is entitled to a private life, this gratuitous display of behavior looks as though it could bleed over into the workplace and lead to uncomfortable work situations.”
Lesson: Keep Social Media Posts Clean
Adams said that the candidate’s social media posts prevented him from getting a job offer. Instead, Adams’ boss selected another candidate.
This example shows that employers do check out what sort of things job candidates are posting on social media. So before you post anything, think about whether you’d want a potential employer to see it. And delete any past posts that are incriminating.
Mistake: Complaining About Work on Social Media
Will Craig, who is the managing director and CEO of car leasing company LeaseFetcher, said that members of his small team are friends with each other on social media. “This is great for social purposes, but it obviously means that we all indirectly see what everyone else is posting,” he said.
So when one employee complained about the company on Facebook during work hours, a colleague saw the post while on a break and told Craig.
Lesson: Speak With Your Employer Instead of Complaining Elsewhere
Craig said he normally wouldn’t fire an employee for using Facebook or other social media during work hours. However, the employee who complained about work online had a history of responding poorly to constructive criticism from supervisors. “The circumstances warranted an immediate response, and we had to ask the person to leave the company,” Craig said.
If you’re not happy with your situation at work, don’t insult your boss or company online. Instead, reach out to your manager to tactfully discuss what is bothering you to find a solution to the problem.
Mistake: Sharing Client Information on Facebook
It’s one thing to share inappropriate information or pictures about yourself on social media. It’s another thing altogether to broadcast information about a client online.
Jen, a human resources manager who asked to use her first name only, actually saw this social media mistake. “In one instance, someone took a photo of the computer screen at his workstation, which had our client’s proprietary information on it, and posted it on Facebook,” she said.
Lesson: Posting Other People’s Private Information Can Cost You More Than Your Job
It probably comes as no surprise that the employee who posted a client’s proprietary information online lost his job. Getting fired could be the least of your worries in a situation like this. Posting someone’s private information online could actually lead to an invasion of privacy lawsuit.
Mistake: Baring It All on Instagram During Work Hours
Matthew Ross, co-owner of sleep and mattress review website Slumber Yard, recently withdrew a job offer from a candidate because of her inappropriate Instagram profile. “I know Instagram profiles are supposed to be personal, but my business partner and I simply could not look past the content posted,” Ross said. “The candidate had posted multiple pictures of herself half-naked and, in one case, she posted a picture of herself engaging in drugs. I couldn’t believe she left her profile public.”
The pictures the job candidate made public on Instagram were bad enough. But what made matters worse is the time of day when she had posted the images, Ross said.
Lesson: Don’t Post on Social Media When You Should Be Working
Ross revealed that it appeared the job candidate wasn’t too concerned about separating her personal life from her working hours.
“It seemed like the majority of pictures were being posted during work hours, which concerned us,” he said. “When employees are at work, we expect them to be focused on work, not surfing social media and posting pictures from the previous night.”
Mistake: Posting Party Pics While Calling In Sick
One of the biggest social media mistakes by employees that Ryan Vet has seen involved calling in sick to work. “Then in an hour, you see them posting pictures on the beach or drinking a mimosa at 10 a.m.,” said Vet, who is the CEO of healthcare startup Boon. “Real sick, huh?”
He’s also had employees call in to say that they have the flu or a stomach bug. “A few minutes later, the other team members who actually made it to work are passing around a phone with a video of that ‘sick’ team member drunk as a skunk and dancing their heart out the night before,” he said.
Lesson: Be Honest — or at Least Stay Off Social Media When You Take a Sick Day
If you’re going to call in sick to work but aren’t truly ill, don’t post pictures online of what you’re doing instead of working — or don’t lie about the reason you’re not at work.
Vet said that when the team members who played hooky returned to work, he spoke with them about not drinking too much and the importance of honesty. “It would be better to straight up say you’re hungover than lie and have evidence float around you’re lying,” he said. “Not only does that look bad on the team member, but it causes distrust — and trust is foundational to a good team and culture.”
Mistake: Getting Too Political on Social Media
James Pollard, who is the founder of The Advisor Coach, often helps his financial advisor clients as they hire new staff to join their firms and grow their businesses. He said it’s surprising how often financial advisors who are looking for jobs don’t bother to clean up their social media profiles. Often, political comments they’ve made hurt their chances of landing jobs.
“For example, one candidate — who otherwise had amazing qualifications — was, let’s just say, a little too involved in the 2016 election,” Pollard said. The job candidate was posting vulgar material about one of the people in the election. It was offensive enough that the company didn’t offer that candidate a job.
Lesson: Don’t Discuss Politics Online
Pollard said that job seekers should be aware that companies will go through your social media accounts with a fine-toothed comb. So you should avoid posting anything about politics online. “If you cave in and break the rule, delete everything as soon as you come to your senses,” he said. “It’s just not worth it.”
Mistake: Bashing People on Twitter
The first job Ashley Anderson — not her real name — landed after graduate school was with a small entertainment and lifestyle publication. She learned the hard way about social media mistakes that can come back to haunt you at work.
Anderson interviewed a minor cast member on a popular reality show and then tweeted out a link to the article she had written about him. When a friend responded to her tweet by saying something rude about the cast member, Anderson joined in.
“The professional thing to do would have just been to let it be,” she said. “But I had a very small following and hadn’t tagged the guy in the post, so I replied back saying something equally rude, assuming he would never see it.” He did see it and then notified his publicist, who told her boss about the tweet.
Lesson: Don’t Say Anything on Social Media That You Wouldn’t Say to Someone’s Face
Not only did Anderson’s boss reprimand her but they also made her tweet an apology. That experience taught her that anything you post on social media is public — especially if it’s a post about a public figure. Anderson realized that what she did was in poor taste and unprofessional.
“I think a good rule of thumb is to not share on social media an opinion about someone you wouldn’t say to their face,” Anderson said. “After all, public figures are people, too. And anything rude you say can be seen by your employer!”
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About the Author
Cameron Huddleston is an award-winning journalist with more than 18 years of experience writing about personal finance. Her work has appeared in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Business Insider, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, MSN, USA Today and many more print and online publications. She also is the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances.
U.S. News & World Report named her one of the top personal finance experts to follow on Twitter, and AOL Daily Finance named her one of the top 20 personal finance influencers to follow on Twitter. She has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and “Fox & Friends” and has been a guest on ABC News Radio, Wall Street Journal Radio, NPR, WTOP in Washington, D.C., KGO in San Francisco and other personal finance radio shows nationwide. She also has been interviewed and quoted as an expert in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch and more.
She has an MA in economic journalism from American University and BA in journalism and Russian studies from Washington & Lee University.