by Kate Ashford
Sure, you love to post pictures of your vacation antics or your kid’s first day of school. But social media can also be a powerful tool for your professional life. You can use it to build your personal brand, grow your network, establish yourself as an expert in your field, or give prospective employers a glimpse into your personality.
It can also be full of pitfalls. More employers and recruiters now regularly check candidates’ social media profiles before hiring them, and screenshots of status updates and tweets mean your electronic words can live forever, even if you delete them later.
And it’s not just your own posts—your activity, including those stealth “likes,” can come back to haunt you, too. “One thing people are often surprised to learn is that an employer can not only see their LinkedIn profile but also see every post they’ve liked, commented on, or shared, in addition to any posts they’re sharing to their feed,” says Michelle Merritt, executive partner at Merrfeld Career Management. “We remind clients to be cautious in what they react to.”
These crucial dos and don’ts will help you navigate the social media maze.
1. Do Be Respectful
Avoid attacking others, and use your best judgment about your own posts. Could they be viewed in a negative manner? Would you shout what you’ve just typed into a crowd? Think before you post, and of course, steer clear of profanity. “Once you’re an adult, that’s not cool,” says Jason Patel, founder of Transizion, a college- and career-prep company. “It means you can’t control yourself.”
2. Don’t Post About Politics or Religion
Unless you work in politics, it’s best not to take any sort of controversial stance on public social media, especially if you’re applying for a job in a sensitive position where you need to protect data, protect client information, or be someone that others go to for advice. “If someone’s trying to hire you for a job, don’t let them think all your advice is going to be biased from the get-go,” Patel says.
3. Do Have a Presence on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is an important tool for networking and professional brand building, so you should have a complete profile there—with professional headshot. (Please, no selfies.) “It’s really your electronic resume now, and a lot of the same rules apply,” says Susan Hosage, senior consultant and executive coach with OneSource HR Solutions. “Make sure the content is grammatically correct and spelled correctly, and that all the jobs and titles and dates are accurate.”
4. Don’t Overshare Personal Information
You don’t need to post everything that happens to you. “I have a friend who posts every time she’s in the ER,” Hosage says. “You don’t want to say that discrimination exists out there, but discrimination exists. If somebody does a search and they see something that isn’t appealing to them, it could affect a hiring decision.” Before you share, consider: What would a potential employer think if they read this?
5. Do Learn to Love Your Privacy Settings
We know what you’re thinking: How are you supposed to have any fun online if you can’t be yourself? It’s fine to be a little looser on Facebook or Instagram—if you keep those profiles private. Either lock down your privacy settings (you can also change your profile name to a nickname or first-plus-middle for extra anonymity) or keep your posts aboveboard.
6. Don’t Trash Talk Your Employer
“We’ve seen this occur on multiple occasions where an offer letter is rescinded due to a candidate’s bad-mouthing of a current or former employer on social media,” says Robert Moses, founder of The Corporate Con/noisseur. Doing so makes you look unprofessional and negative—qualities most hiring managers aren’t eager to add to their teams.
7. Do Keep Sensitive Company Info Under Wraps
It’s natural to want to brag about your work accomplishments. But remember that what you do at work may be proprietary information, and if you’ve signed any nondisclosure agreements, you could be jeopardizing your job by posting. Even if there’s no NDA in the mix, it may just bug your boss to see you posting work information online. When in doubt, skip it. “There’s more to lose by bothering your supervisors than there is to gain,” Patel says.
8. Don’t Post During the Workday
It’s one thing if you’re sharing professional posts on LinkedIn that promote the company or publicize a big company announcement. It’s another if you’re tweeting about your fantasy football team at 10 AM. “It starts to cause your employer to think about how committed you are,” Hosage says.
9. Do Contribute to the Discussion
Participating in industry-related discussions on social media can elevate your personal brand. You can post interesting or relevant articles, respond to the latest news, and connect with other experts in your field.
That said, take a beat before you post or respond to something super-contentious. “You’re probably better off keeping hot takes to yourself,” says Jason Myers, a senior executive with The Content Factory. “We live in an extremely polarized society where many people are quick to react to posts or stories without taking a moment to evaluate whether their opinions are adding any actual value.”
10. Don’t Feel You Must Post Constantly
You know that person in your network who somehow manages to post professional content five times a day every single day? Don’t worry about competing with them. You don’t need to post every day, or even every week, if you don’t have something to say.
“As a matter of fact, if you seldom post, but you really put thought and attention into the posts you do make, the audience you’re posting for could pay more attention,” Patel says. “Because you’re not someone who opens your mouth all the time. You’re someone who picks and chooses your words, and people respect that.”