Published on August 7, 2017, at 11 a.m.
by Katie Willem.
Your online aesthetic is more than a picture on Instagram for your friends and followers to like. In fact, what you post online could be the ticket to your next job, or a factor into why you weren’t hired. More specifically, in the field of public relations, image is everything. And if your image isn’t similar to what your potential employer wants in an employee, then you may be out of luck.
Dr. Maura Mills is an assistant professor of human resource management in the Culverhouse College of Commerce at The University of Alabama. When advising companies during the hiring process, she’s seen someone not get hired because of social media before.
“I’ve seen applicants get to a certain stage in the selection process, only to be ‘weeded out’ in the final round because of a social media post or even just a broad Google name search,” Mills said.
Lynn Hazan, who is the president and founder of Lynn Hazan & Associates in Chicago, Illinois, said that when hiring someone, she looks at the total candidate. This means that she not only takes in what someone presents to her upon the interview, but also their available social media as well.
Hazan said to be authentic in your posts online, and not to “contribute to the chatter” that is online. She said that when thinking about posting online, you should ask yourself these questions, “What am I posting? Why am I posting it? What outcome do I want to achieve from this post?”
Whether or not you come to an interview dressed as professionally as possible, who you present yourself to be on social media is who your interviewer is going to believe you really are. If they’ve looked at your Instagram, Twitter or other active social media that is free to the public eye, then they know that you went out two nights ago, drank a lot of alcohol and then took a blurry picture with all of your friends where, let’s call him “John,” decided to flash his middle finger at the camera with his tongue out and beer can in his other hand.
Your interviewer knows about the incident because you posted this picture on every social media site you have with some caption like “You’re only as strong as the drinks you mix, the tables you dance on and the friends you party with.” By tagging all of your friends in the photo, you have made it easy for your interviewer then to go to “John’s” page and see how ridiculously vulgar/racist/homophobic or a number of other crude things that your friend “John” could be. Human nature takes over from this point.
After all, doesn’t the saying go something like this: “Show me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are?”
This is not to say that you shouldn’t go out and have a little fun, because you should absolutely be allowed to relax every once and a while. But, when looking at your life and how you portray it online, it’s important to be very picky about what you post. Be true to who you are, but unless you have a job title like “Professional Partier,” who you are doesn’t usually consist of “crazy, wild nights” that you can’t remember in the morning.
In fact, as Mills pointed out in her remarks, personal and professional social media’s role in your future is a popular topic right now. She said Forbes gives some good, basic reminders.
While Forbes gives good advice on how to post online, it lacks in the case of what to post.
How does one remain active online, true to oneself, but also show that you’re a competent individual ready to take on the workforce? Hazan says you have control to shape your persona in the public domain. Here are things I and others on social media have used in social media endeavors that may help you out:
1. Show yourself in day-to-day life.
Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Showing that you’re active in your community is a great way to start when you’re deciding what to post on social media. Granted, this involves being active in more than just the bar scene in your community. A great way to find out what local (and free!) events are happening in the area is to visit local coffee shops or small businesses, as well as check the “Nearby Events” tab on Facebook. It’s as simple as a drive to watch “Star Wars” in the park.
2. Interact with brands that have an online presence.
It’s not hard to show interest in favorite brands while on Twitter. It’s also fairly easy to see and to interact with Twitter trends as well.
For example, Bill Stoller (@PublicityGuru) reveals that he’s an avid reader with up-to-date knowledge of the “goings-ons” around the world on his Twitter. Scrolling through his tweets, I saw interactions with PR News (@PRNews), Adweek (@Adweek), and the Huffington Post (@HuffPost), among others.
However, if your Twitter is more “for fun,” then Mike Schaffer’s interaction choices (@mikeschaffer) — with memes, funny pictures and tweets about #BadSongSequels — may be more of your style. The interaction is more casual, but still remains pretty professional, showing only the best side of who he is.
3. Showcase your accomplishments.
Whether it’s an interview with someone who you admire, something knocked off the bucket list or an award you’ve received, when you take big steps in your life, you deserve some bragging rights.
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One summer ago, I stayed in Tuscaloosa to intern with Alabama Public Radio & actually went to see the AP awards. I never thought, when I first got there, that something like this would happen. This will be remembered as a big moment in my college career. I'm truly blessed. #alabamapublicradio #intern #awards #thankful
4. Document your travels.
Unlike day-to-day life, this, as Hazan says, makes you “Get out of your comfort zone, because that’s when you learn.”
The hardest part about traveling is getting there, but when in a new place, or around a new culture, you learn a lot both about yourself and the place you visit.
Jamie Young took a semester abroad in Italy and wrote a blog about her experiences and how she changed because of them. In her posts, she showcased all of the great things she did, with the bigger picture in mind that she would be posting this information for the world to see.
5. Post things that make you happy.
The things that bring you joy are honestly the best way to look into who you are as a person. Hopes and dreams are “soul-bearers.” Social media posts about what makes you happy give insight into where you best fit as well. If nature makes you happiest, maybe sitting at a desk with no access to windows isn’t the best place for you.
Sometime social media help individuals on the job search. Mills said that sometimes your social media can be used to ‘weed out’ jobs that won’t be right for you. She said, “Pictures of an applicant’s children may scare off a non-family-friendly employer. In such instances, applicants should consider the extent to which they’re willing to modify their social media in light of potential employer searches. If it is important to an applicant to find a family-friendly employer, then leaving pictures of one’s children on social media pages may serve to ‘weed out’ an employer who would not be an optimal fit for that candidate.”
Mills explains that the platform you are posting on should always be one of the first considerations you should make. She said, “There is no excuse for an unprofessional LinkedIn picture. Whereas a picture of you at a wedding with your friends cropped out may be entirely appropriate for Facebook and may not raise any eyebrows in that context; it will likely compromise others’ perception of your professionalism in the LinkedIn context.”
Your social media presence is something that has become incredibly important in the field of public relations. You not only need to know how to use it effectively, but you also must know how to use it appropriately. Your experience with social media will, more than likely, have an effect on your future in the field. So make that experience one that is positive, creative and unique to who you are, with who you want to be in mind.