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How to clean up your online image before a job search

Sharing pics of holiday misadventures on Instagram, complaining about your boss on Facebook or having a rant about politics on Twitter can be a bad idea if you’re looking for a job. In fact, a 2017 CareerBuilder survey found a whopping 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring.

Ross Monaghan, a lecturer in communication at Deakin’s Faculty of Arts and Education reiterates this. ‘One of the very first things that employers will do when they’re considering you for a job is to do a search of social media platforms to find out what kind of person you are,’ he explains.

This is why it’s increasingly important to ensure your social media presence is spic and span before you send out your CV. Here’s how to go about it.

Why your online image matters

It’s pretty simple: employers want to know you’re a good fit for their organisation and that you’re an ethical person. If you’re doing inappropriate things in your personal life and bragging about them online or sharing distasteful ideas, it’s logical to assume this could be who you are in the workplace, too.

‘At the extreme end of the spectrum, there have been many, many examples where employees have used social media to record themselves in the workplace doing outrageous things like wheelies in a forklift or illegally tampering with food in a restaurant,’ Monaghan says.

‘When an employer searches for you, they’re considering whether you will take into account the reputation of that organisation, and the cold hard truth is if you’re not looking out for your own reputation, why would you care about your employer’s reputation?’

So seriously do employers take potential employees’ online behaviour that a growing number are outsourcing the task of social media vetting to specialist companies. ‘The reputation of organisations is a multi-billion dollar industry and extensive resources, either internally or externally, are put into making sure the people who are employed fit with the company’s culture,’ Monaghan says.

'The cold hard truth is if you’re not looking out for your own reputation, why would you care about your employer’s reputation?'

Ross Monaghan,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Cleaning up your online image

Start with an audit – Google yourself to see which social media accounts pop up in the search results, says Monaghan. ‘Make sure you’re aware of what’s online and what’s being said about you, then you can start to take action to make sure it’s deleted or removed,’ he says.

Deactivate old accounts you no longer use and consider taking down entire active accounts if they’re especially problematic. As for what’s left, make use of privacy settings or switch to an alias to keep content private. ‘Lots of people use aliases for their account names that only their friends know about, and that’s a fantastic idea,’ says Monaghan.

For accounts you decide to keep public, take time to go through old posts thoroughly and delete anything you’re worried could ring alarm bells among employers, including grumpy rants, shares from dodgy sites, questionable photos, and inappropriate TikTok videos. We’re not going to lie – this part may take some time!

How social media can help your job search

A clean online image involves adding positive content just as much as deleting inappropriate content. ‘Make sure there’s content out there that reflects you in a positive way because not having anything is just as much a red flag for employers as having inappropriate content,’ Monaghan says.

Follow inspiring people and companies, post news and quotes related to your industry – this is great way to make your LinkedIn profile stand out – and share blog posts or other content you’ve created.

‘It’s really important to do positive things online that are going to attract employers’ attention and give you a chance to showcase the positive things you can do,’ Monaghan says.

Moving forward, whether you’re looking for your first job or you’ve been in the game for a little while, being mindful about what you post online will help to keep your digital footprint clean and your employment prospects bright, especially as technology continues to develop clever new ways to mine data.

‘Things like image and audio searches might come back to bite people in the future, so it pays to remember: if you don’t want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, it’s probably not appropriate to put it online,’ Monaghan says.

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Ross Monaghan
Ross Monaghan

Lecturer in Communication, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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