How Wary of Your Social Media Life Should You Be? Very.

How Wary of Your Social Media Life Should You Be?

So you think that your next prospective employer or business associate won’t notice your Facebook posting of a “funny” picture on a family vacation or an unruly comment after one of your teams lost, or a tweet you sent after a political debate? Think again. A study from chartered psychologist Rob Bailey presented at a British Psychological Society Conference in Chester, U.K. last year found that “65% of respondents said they were likely to look at a potential employee’s online presence prior to interviewing them.” 65%!

Bailey had this advice for potential job candidates: “Lock down your Facebook privacy settings completely! Or if you don’t do this, make sure any level of information you share is appropriate for the social media image that you are trying to create. Twitter is completely public; only share things that support the reputation that you are trying to create. Use LinkedIn like a professional networking event—your profile is your CV and your discussions are places for professional, respectful conversations.”

Like most issues, there is another side to this. In a post on the site socialmediatoday last year titled, How Many Social Media Personalities Do I Need?, Maria Ogneva wrote that one profile is just fine. “Can you really separate?” she asked. “In this transparent social world, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the professional and personal.” She believes that having a passion for what you do is the key barometer today, and your personal life should reflect that passion. “In a channel that values conversation, true passion is obvious, and lack thereof makes you come off disingenuous and uninteresting.”

I agree with her up to a point. My personal film and arts endeavours—leading groups and writing occasional reviews—would support my professional cause in most cases. But I’m a fairly cautious guy who grew up in another time. Is it fair to the Generation Z folks, who know nothing else but to put their every thought and action online, to be judged professionally for it? Ogneva also points to serendipity. “Some of the best connections I’ve made have been because of another interest,” she writes. “It’s this serendipity that allows you to discover mutually beneficial relationships.” That makes sense. I always thought that it was good to put your interests in a resume in hopes that something catches the employer’s eye. Social media is just a much more detailed list of those interests. “Serendipity happens, but you do have to plan it.”

Finally, Ogneva points to the problems of upkeep. “Personally, I don’t have the time or brain capacity to remember to update all these places,” she writes. “The more you fracture your presence, the less meaningful each presence in each account will be, because there’s just not enough time.” I probably disagree here. When it’s something as important as your professional life, it’s worth taking the extra time to keep your accounts straight—if that is what you need to do. She does back down a bit in the end. “If you are trying to build a professional career, you probably should mind your tweets in the first place, no matter what account you are posting to.”

Back to Bailey’s study. He concludes that there may actually be something illegal in employers making decisions over something in your social networking sites (SNS). “If an SNS search is done before an employment offer, without a policy to guide it, it is highly likely to be done in private and not recorded; these are conditions where bias and discrimination are more likely to occur.” But that would be awfully hard to prove.

He offered this advice to companies that choose to go the SNS route: “Prepare a clear company policy based on sound legal advice. This should include such policies as not adding an applicant as a friend in order to investigate their background, as this would risk breaching data protection legislation.”

Excuse me while I tear down my Facebook wall. Be right back.


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