Think: 'Who can access your data?' If your profile is public, your future employer could have an insight into more than just your qualifications and work experience.
Everyone seems to use social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn – from students and graduates to parents and grandparents. And graduate employers are no strangers to it. Recruiters often use social media to find and engage with potential job candidates – and could be put off by what they see. Equally, interested students can use social media to reach out to employers themselves – bringing their profiles onto recruiters’ radars.
There’s no doubt that, when used appropriately, social media is a powerful careers tool. But how do you balance the need to have a professional online presence with your personal use of social media?
If you haven’t already done so, you should take steps to safeguard your use of social media for your private life and keep work and play separate. At the same time, give some thought to how you can use social media to your professional advantage, as a way to stay informed, raise your profile and network with recruiters.
What can recruiters find out about you online?
It’s worth giving some serious thought to who can access your data. If you don’t make good use of privacy settings, content you have uploaded will be visible to any Tom, Dick or HR person and your future employer could have an insight into more than just your qualifications and work experience. Think photos of that time you got drunk and your mates sellotaped the contents of the living room to you.
This doesn’t mean that you need to trawl the net, removing every trace of your existence; just that you need to be savvy and ensure that your online persona portrays you at your best to employers.
Keep your personal and professional lives separate
First things first, it’s a good idea to draw a line between your personal and professional lives so as to avoid any awkward crossovers. Different people will separate the two in different ways, so do what makes the most sense for you and how you use social media.
Ask yourself: would you be confident/comfortable posting careers-related content on your existing social media, or would you rather your friends weren’t able to read it and reply? If you opened up your existing social media to your professional network, would you still feel able to share the content you currently post, or would you feel restricted?
You could choose to use certain sites for strictly professional purposes and others purely for your private life (eg LinkedIn for job hunting and Instagram and TikTok for socialising). You might decide to set up two different accounts on one platform (eg having a professional account and a personal account on Twitter). Or you may feel that no action is needed and you can strike a happy medium between personal and professional on your existing social media accounts.
Top tip: review your profile visibility and privacy settings
For each of your social media accounts, even if you don’t intend to use them for careers purposes, think about what content you are happy for anyone to see and what you feel is best saved for people you already know.
For some accounts, you may decide to make your profile completely private, meaning only your existing friends/followers can see any of your content and you will need to approve or accept any new requests. For others, you may just want to tweak a few settings so that certain content is only visible to your friends or followers. On Facebook, for example, you can display a reduced profile to people you aren’t friends with. On Instagram, you can create a list of close friends and choose to only share your ‘story’ with them – or you can hide it from specific accounts.
Remember your social media accounts that you don’t use anymore. You may not have logged into your Twitter account since 2015, but that won’t necessarily stop a recruiter stumbling across it.
Top tip: do a social media audit
If you want to keep your social media fully public, it’s worth going through your profiles to check that your usernames and bios are appropriate, and that an embarrassing or controversial photo or conversation isn’t going to be seen by a recruiter.
They’re unlikely to scroll down to your posts in 2010 but anything recent may catch their eye. Consider hiding any eyebrow-raising posts – or even deleting them altogether if you want to use the account for professional purposes.
The content may not even be your own: beware of things you’ve been tagged in by friends and family that will show up on your profile. On both Instagram and Facebook, you can hide content you’ve been tagged in that you don’t want to be visible.
Top tip: search for yourself online
Once you’ve followed the two steps above, pop your name into a search engine (or several search engines) and see what comes up. Is anything still showing up that you’d rather a recruiter didn’t see? If so, is it easy to remove or hide from public view?
Do your search in an incognito window so your search history doesn’t influence the results that come up. You could also ask a trusted friend or family member to search you too if you want to be super vigilant.
The most likely results will be your social media accounts. Most social networks have a public listing that contains some information from your profile and a link. If something is showing up that you don’t want to be public knowledge, you can modify it by editing your privacy settings.
Other things that could come up are blogs, forum posts and other sites such as YouTube. If you’ve ever posted anything under your real name then it could show up in a search. If it’s something you’d prefer not to come up, it’s best to get this sorted before you start applying for jobs.
Use social media to your advantage
Taking the above steps to ensure your social media presence doesn’t put your career at a disadvantage is just the tip of the iceberg. You can – and should – actively use social media to your advantage.
The most obvious social networking site for career-related use is the professional network LinkedIn, boasting nearly 690 million users in more than 200 countries and territories as of June 2020. And it’s popular with students and graduates: the Cibyl Graduate Survey 2020 of almost 72,000 people found that 72% of the students and graduates surveyed were using LinkedIn for careers purposes.
This is significantly higher than any other social media, and is trailed by:
- YouTube – 30%
- Twitter – 22%
- Facebook – 21%
- Instagram – 16%
- Pinterest – 7%
- Snapchat – 4%
You can use LinkedIn to provide an online CV that is readily available to employers – and you can add work to your profile, so you can upload presentations, portfolio pieces or videos. You can also get recommendations from colleagues and join groups related to the sector, job role or employer you’re interested in.
You can find out more about using LinkedIn from our two-part series on how to put together a LinkedIn profile and then how to use LinkedIn to research, network and build your brand.
Twitter is another useful platform. You can use it to search for job opportunities, by following employers you’re interested in and accounts dedicated to posting about opportunities in your sector. Twitter is also a great tool for information-gathering and engaging in conversation – whether that’s a way of networking or to gain the most up-to-date industry knowledge.
When using Twitter as a networking tool, focus on tweeting meaningful and interesting content and building up relevant contacts. Tweet about issues in your field, retweet relevant articles and other topical content and try to establish a regular dialogue with others in your industry – eg by offering congratulations to an employer you’re interested in, for example, if they win an industry award.
Follow relevant accounts (eg those of employers and of people working for them) and cut out the ‘white noise’ by unfollowing accounts that don’t provide content that interests or helps you. In addition, hashtags are an effective way of finding relevant content and exchanges that you can become a part of. If used well, they can also help you to expand your Twitter audience.
If you produce content elsewhere that you want to promote – for example, if you have a blog – then Twitter is a good way to push it out to people who might be interested. Don’t do this relentlessly though – people will get fed up and probably unfollow you.
Top tip: utilise the full range of social media at your fingertips
However, you shouldn’t necessarily neglect other social media. They also offer useful opportunities to connect with and find out more about organisations you’re interested in. For example, you can:
- Subscribe to employers’ YouTube channels to watch their latest content. Lots of companies share videos of their current employees talking about their roles, which are one of the best ways to learn about a company and its work.
- Look for employers’ careers accounts on Instagram. Not as many employers have student-facing accounts as those on Twitter, but examples include Bam Construct, Barclays, Clyde & Co, EY and Morrisons.
If you interact with an employer on any of these social networking sites, you can refer to the exchange when you meet the recruiter at interview.
Top tip: let your skills and interests do the talking
You can use your social media to highlight your skills and interests, especially if these are related to the field you want to go into. If the world of publishing is calling your name, perhaps you’re a budding bookstagrammer. If you want to be a graphic designer, you could post about your side projects on LinkedIn. Or if you’re hoping to become a personal trainer, you might have a YouTube account devoted to health and fitness.
You could even set up your own website or blog. This will demonstrate initiative and, if you do it right, could be a good way of showing off your creativity and communication skills, as well as presenting a suitably professional image.
You can connect with TARGETjobs on social media to help with your job hunt: