How your online presence can affect your internship, job prospects

Think that picture of you doing a keg stand on Facebook won’t come back to haunt you? Think again. 

Prospective employers are increasingly turning to social media accounts to learn more about applicants and uncovering all sorts of skeletons in our online closets. 

A 2013 CareerBuilder study conducted by Harris Interactive of 2,184 hiring managers and human resource professionals across the U.S. found 39 percent (a 2 percent increase from 2012) used social networks to research job candidates. Additionally, 43 percent (a 9 percent increase from 2012) of hiring managers that searched social media profiles said it caused them to find a reason not to hire an applicant.  

As University students, many, if not most of us, are constantly engaged in job-seeking efforts to nail down interviews, internships and other endeavors hopefully culminating in our first post-college job. 

But there are many pitfalls in our ways, notably ourselves and the way we report ourselves to the world online. Because, whether you like it or not, your social media pages, blogs and overall online presence are all part of your resume. 

We offer some examples of stuff you probably shouldn’t be sharing online, how it can impact your job search efforts and some tips on preserving your sparkling online identity. 

First, don’t complain about a position you have or are currently seeking. 

Employers want to know you are interested in working for them and appreciate what they stand for. Employers make an investment in you when they hire you; don’t give them buyers’ remorse. 

In 2009, after receiving a job offer from Cisco, one now infamous applicant tweeted about weighing the “fatty paycheck” the company had offered against her hatred of the work. Now, other companies, like Morgan Stanley, have used the “fatty paycheck” tweet as an example during new hire training on unacceptable online practices.

Second, keep the illicit activity off the interwebs. 

Most employers have a bias toward not hiring people that are likely to be a legal liability or could reflect poorly on the organization’s legal compass. Earlier this year, Denver 10th-grade math teacher Carly McKinney (@Crunk_Bear) lost her job over a series of racy twitpics and tweets about her love of marijuana (“Such an easy day … Can’t wait to roll up after school”).

Third, even some licit activity can rub employers the wrong way. 

Pictures of you holding or drinking alcohol, simulating sexual acts or being naked don’t lend much to your employability. This is a perception issue; most employers want applicants who exude professionalism, not a party persona. In 2009, Georgia teacher Ashley Payne was offered suspension or to resign from her job for Facebook pictures of her drinking beer while on a vacation in Europe.

Particular to alcohol, a series of experiments published in 2010 and conducted by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Michigan showed that job applicants known to drink are seen as less intelligent and hirable by U.S. employers (dubbed the “imbibing idiot bias”). 

Finally, personal stuff should stay personal. 

Posting snide comments, information about your mental or physical illnesses, your opinions on hot-button issues, your sexual preferences or your feelings about particular minority groups are all things employers can latch onto. Treat potential posts about yourself as if they could be leaked at any moment. Think: “Is this really something I’d want the world to potentially see or know about me?” If not, don’t post it. 

This past September, the CTO of Business Insider, Pax Dickinson, was let go after a series of his sexually and racially inflammatory tweets were uncovered. (Example: “Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron.”)

Abstinence from social media truly is the safest option in your job search, but that doesn’t conform to most of our social needs and desires in the digital age. Instead, we would like to encourage the use of safe social media practices.

Know the privacy settings available to you on Facebook, Twitter, etc. (But keep in mind, these are a false sense of security and not fool-proof). Consider keeping separate social media accounts for your private and professional life. Keep tabs on people that post pictures with you in it. You probably won’t always be able to get someone to take a picture down, but untagging yourself certainly makes it harder for others to find. Change your social media passwords often and use different passwords for each account.

Most important, use common sense when creating your digital image. For the most part, you control how you are perceived online. 

Take charge of your online identity and carve yourself an image that won’t turn off all chances of you getting somewhere in life.