Social media has proven to be very influential in the choices we make. We mostly use it to connect with friends and network with others. But there is a side to social media that isn’t mentioned when you sign up for an account: it may influence your professional career. People personalize their profiles, upload photos, post comments and have fun while doing so, but times have changed.

In the past, applying for a job usually included scheduling an interview, preparing for said interview, wearing presentable clothes to the interview and acting accordingly. Your future employer wouldn’t know anything else about you other than what you shared. Based on his or her first impression, you would be hired or rejected. Today, employers have more resources for screening potential employees. Social media offers employers the opportunity to get a glimpse of the applicant’s personality, before actually meeting this person. If this happens to you, you probably won’t notice it unless your soon-to-be boss tells you. According to a study conducted by Buzzom, 91% of employers use social networks to screen applicants. To do this, all they need is your name and location. The study also lists a number of reasons why people were hired or rejected, including:

Top reasons hired
– the profiles gave a positive impression of personality and organizational fit
– the profiles supported professional qualifications
– the profiles showed that the candidate was creative

Top reasons rejected
– Inappropriate photos
– Inappropriate comments (e.g. alcohol or drug-related comments)
– Candidate lied about qualifications

So what does this mean for job hunters? Should we censor our Facebook profile and limit our posts to those deemed appropriate? Should we only upload pictures where we are fully dressed in formal wear, smiling with an iPad at our desk? I believe that these actions take away from the very nature of social networks and could turn Facebook into a less convenient version of LinkedIn. I don’t think that employers should decide based on social network profiles, instead, they should focus on skills and qualifications, despite the possibility of dubious photos and comments.

I understand that employers are curious about the personalities that will represent their companies, however; I also believe that employers shouldn’t be too skeptical about their staff members. Managers shouldn’t make decisions based solely on what they see on Facebook. Unless the candidate is into criminal actions or drug abuse, I would argue that a person’s reliability is more important than a photo with a bottle of beer in his hands. Employers need to determine the boundaries of what is appropriate and acceptable, and also the level of influence social networks should have on hiring decisions.

It’ll be interesting to see how these new forms of screening evolve in the future. People might adjust their online profiles if they are job hunting. If you want to adjust, you can do so by removing any inappropriate comments and photos, and uploading harmless images (e.g. photos of you winning an award, graduation ceremony photos, etc.). These may be useful tips, but there is one tip that everyone should use: change your privacy settings. By doing this, you can control who sees your profile, which means you can still have fun on Facebook while remaining discreet to employers.