This is what recruiters do and do not want to see on your social media

Searching for a new job can be an exciting search if you know what you’re looking for. Perhaps it’s time to make the jump to the bigger role your current employer keeps promising but has failed to deliver; perhaps you’re displeased with your current profession and feel now is the time to make the move for a career change.

Before your next job hunt, there’s a few things you should have in order: an updated resume, curated cover letters (for every job), and a new portrait shot for your Ladders profile.

More than ever, networking is pivotal due to the pandemic — without face-to-face meetings or midday coffee dates, there’s never been a more important time to network, and to network virtually.

But before you press send on that email or job application, there’s one more thing that you should look over: your social media activity. A digital footprint can tell a potential employer all they need to know without ever speaking to you.

Selfies from lavish trips around the world could be perceived as a form of narcissism. The photo of a keg stand from a basement party in college could still be buried deep in the pages upon pages of Facebook photos. A misjudged tweet from your youth could be stored on someone’s computer, patiently waiting for the moment to bury — or “cancel” — you.

It’s been said that social media can be used against a candidate in their job search, therefore consider those who haven’t sounded off a hot take on a controversial topic a rare breed. Before you try to clean up your act and wipe out your digital life, pause and think about this for a moment: Can your social media presence actually benefit your job search?

Research has shown that job seekers are aware of their social presence. The vast majority want to keep their personal life private, which includes things that could be considered unprofessional behavior or political views. Friending coworkers on social platforms is seen as an invasion of privacy, while 66% said they would even consider deleting their Facebook page.

While defensive strategies might be able to make you a digital ghost, not all of your social media activity is going to be viewed against you when applying for a job.

A recent study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management took a deep dive into how social media may affect a recruiter’s hiring process, where researchers looked at social media activity can reveal candidates’ personality traits and what hiring managers are paying attention to.

The study, headed by Linchi Kwok and Antonio Muniz, also wanted to see whether certain pieces of social media could affect one’s ability to get hired by a company.

The study interviewed a group of managers at major hospitality companies from a variety of industries, such as, restaurant, hotel, country clubs, and more. With years of experience (the average manager had 19 years of experience in their industry), they were prone to hire around two to 18 candidates per month, the study said.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that LinkedIn was the most preferred method of social media that managers wanted to see. Hiring managers said having content that pertains to your industry, in this case, photos of food or organizational social acuities were favored.

Having a clear headshot where one is smiling is also important, but they didn’t want to see inappropriate langue, negative posts, alcohol or drug use, amongst other things.

“When the hiring managers stated that they disliked inappropriate or negative posts, it is plausible that they were observing the candidates’ extroversion and emotional stability traits, where the candidates portray an overall positive attitude without expressing great swings of emotional experiences,” researchers said.

Here’s a few examples of what managers looked for from the study:

  • “If the person shares business-related information, that shows they are staying up with trends … social activities in their company.”
  • “Photos that don’t have a smile, a grainy picture, a picture that is too personal, or provocative, meaning inappropriate … nothing that’s political … or digging into negativity.”
  • “Posting for a community event that they are going to … you want to see that balance where … they do other things; I think it’s a positive characteristic.”

The power of social media on a job search

Given how managers perceive social media use from a candidate, it seems that being one with social media isn’t wise but that’s not always the case. As a job seeker, it could position you better if you were unemployed and wanted to show potential employers you’re still informed in the now.

If you’re someone thinking of making a pivot in your career, your social presence could be a way to show a level of expertise that won’t be found on a resume.

That’s according to Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and founder of Dream Career Club, who has worked with executives from Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey and other leading firms.

Ceniza-Levine told Ladders that when it comes to social media and a job search, companies and recruiters typically look for a few things, but it always starts with LinkedIn.

“There’s no substitute to a general database that has hundreds of millions of profiles on it. A lot of times, companies are looking for people who are already employed or have specific experience, so LinkedIn is very searchable,” Ceniza-Levine said. “The average job searcher should have a profile there and it should be updated. It should have keywords that relative to their skills and expertise so that they can be found.”

In order to stand out from other’s on your feed, Ceniza-Levine said curating content and commenting on other people’s post is a good way to stay on top of the minds of connections and recruiters patrolling social media, especially for someone thinking of changing careers or who is unemployed.

She says job seekers can still be perceived as someone who is active despite not working by posting about the industry they strive for, whether it’s one where there’s experience or one you hope to break into.

“It’s that ability to shape how you’re seeing in a way you can’t with other tools that are point in time,” Ceniza-Levine explained. “Job seekers forget that and I actually think because of all these three things that I said — social media is very beneficial to job seekers.”

Why you should write a post ASAP

Not everyone is a writer, but being able to show your level of expertise on a subject can be a big step forward when separating yourself from the rest of the field. Ceniza-Levine said it doesn’t have to be a 700-word think piece; it can be as simple as posting news items about your industry and positioning yourself comfortably for an interview.

“For your own development, if you get an interview for your a position, what are you going to talk about?,” she said. “Your ability to say you’ve researched an area and know what’s happening and that these companies are the big players and upstarts and these are the things you need to be thinking about.”

For career-shifters who don’t have the time or money to head to grad school, writing or commenting on a topic that you’re interested in exploring is another way to show your expertise.

Do recruiters really have time to look at everything you post?

Rest assured, your paranoia isn’t exactly warranted. While cleaning up old posts that could be held against you is always a good idea, just think twice before posting anything.

Certainly, improper social media use could harm your employment. A third of employers said they had to reprimand or fire an employee based on content they found on the web, but showing who you are and what you value won’t bury you.

However, be mindful of posting in forums and community discussions like Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter, where topics tend to venture into uncharted waters.

“Companies and recruiters don’t have that kind of time,” said Ceniza-Levine about the searching habits of companies. “Even when they do have that kind of time, it’s part of an entire discussion. It’s not, ‘Oh, you took a selfie!’ When that happens, there’s nothing else in your profile to speak to something else.

“Maybe that’s the bigger problem. Maybe you should look at your skillset and your experience and making sure there’s enough there that they will want you as a candidate and not be so turned off by one little thing.”