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 Cleaning Up Your Facebook

By Joe Stein

Most people in Western New York participate, in some way, with social media. The title of this  column may include Facebook (as it is the most widely used tool), but the topic includes any other sites, such as LinkedIn or Twitter.
I realize that some Job Seekers would probably argue that it is unfair for prospective employers to go online to research a candidate. The argument by these folks is that doing this is some type of invasion of privacy, because what they do online should not be the business of their current or potential employer.  Twelve states (at the time of this writing) actually do have legislation that prohibits companies from requiring applicants to provide them with their social media User Names and Passwords (New York is considering such legislation). Reality is, however, that studies indicate that upwards of 40+% of Recruiters have explored online what social media activity is associated with a candidate. So, you may be placing yourself at a significant competitive disadvantage by having items online that reflect poorly of you.
It is, therefore, a smart career move to spend some time to “clean up” your Facebook page prior to conducting your job search. An even better move, considering the “permanent” nature of the internet, is to never participate in any of this public activity in a way that may negatively impact how others perceive you. Your discretion now, may save you a lot of work or heartache later in your career. What you include in your “tweets” or your Facebook page may not only inform others about who you are, what you value, and what you are thinking about, but also may speak volumes regarding your judgment and overall professional maturity.
If you think you may have some “clean up” work to do, there are some particular areas to focus on as a job seeker. This should be done prior to diving into your search. I am personally not a social media expert, so the focus below is on items that are pretty basic and simple, and relate to the vast majority of job seekers.
·         Remove any negative employer references. An even better idea would be to not do this type of activity at all. It may be tempting to rip the boss in a tweet or post your thoughts on  Facebook regarding how badly you hate work. There is little value, however, to doing so beyond the passing feeling of satisfaction you may receive while typing. A Hiring Manager may genuinely conclude that if the person is willing to go to social media regarding a previous boss, they are likely to do it again with a future one. It may be a situation that a Hiring Manager would just prefer to avoid finding themselves in.
·         Examine your posted photos. Specifically, the type that will draw the attention of a potential employer, such as those that are sexually provocative or involve you in a position of inebriation. You can start to do this by making a decision regarding what will be public and what will be private.  Your public photos should be those that are appropriate for anyone at any time. In particular your public profile picture should be one that is professional, such as a smiling head shot against a neutral plain background. An examination of your privacy settings is in order with your job search.
·         Examine your words. Have you posted comments that may even be mildly offensive? This may range from the latest ethnic joke you have heard to a comment regarding the person who cut you off driving today. If it is something that is not workplace friendly, then remove it.
·         Determine what others have posted. It is, of course, very difficult to control what others do, especially when it comes to these social media tools. You can help yourself, however, by "untagging" any photos from others that are not job search appropriate. It is certainly also reasonable to ask these people that have photos or other items posted of you that are not job search “friendly” on their pages to remove them.
I know what you may be thinking at this point…what fun is social media if I can’t do all of this stuff! Unfortunately, this is the reality of the competitive job environment we are in. Just as you, in the role of a Job Seeker may go online to find out more about an employer, they may do the same about you. 
We have spent quite a bit of space writing about what not to do. A savvy Job Seeker can, however, use social media to their competitive advantage. Some examples of this include inserting photos of you performing volunteer work, adding testimonials from those who can vouch for you on a professional or personal level, or posting major accomplishments achieved at work or school.   You can also replace the music and movie quotes with inspirational statements and literature passages. All of this may not be as much fun, but may just assist you in landing the job you desire.
As always, best of luck in your job search!