With more and more people flocking to services like Facebook and Twitter, many of these same people are unknowingly preventing themselves from getting hired for jobs. Given the record unemployment, companies are really doing their due diligence to ensure they’re choosing only the best hires. Five years ago, a simple web search was the extent of their online research for prospective employees. Today, that search deepens as many organizations now search blogs and social media.

A few years back, only a select group of young people and older people that were technology inclined had much of a web presence. They either hosted their own websites or used a free website service but in either case, had to learn technologies and concepts such as HTML and FTP. Blogs and social media changed all that because now anyone can have a presence on the web with very little technical knowhow.

So now when employers search for a name, they’re likely to find a lot more on a given person than they would have a few years back. Keep in mind that both Facebook and Twitter pages show up in search engine queries (unless you have changed your setting so they won’t). So here’s some things that you should watch out for when using social media and looking to further your career:

1. Your profile picture is inappropriate.

The thing that’s most readily available, even if you block all other access to your account, is your profile picture. So it’s amazing how so many people make so many mistakes with this one. Here are some common ones:

Holding a cigar, cigarette or alcoholic beverage in the photo (or smoking /consuming it).

Making an obscene gesture in the photo.

Using a photo that’s risqué in nature.

Using an image that takes a stand that’s political in nature or critical of a person or business.

So in other words, if you wouldn’t use the photo to send along with your resume, don’t use it as your profile picture.

2. Your status updates are unprofessional.

Using profanity, getting into heated discussions on hot button issues or excessive immature behavior are common mistakes people make. Most employers won’t be impressed by your prolific use of the “F” word, or extreme views on a particular issue.

3. You’re tagged in a less than flattering photo

Yes, we all have those moments that we’re less than proud of and these days with everyone carrying a cell phone with a built-in camera, there’s a good chance those moments are caught on (digital) film. Again, these days employers are extra careful about who they’re hiring and many search the social media sites before extending an offer. So if there are any photos of you passed out, in various states of undress or anything else that may make a potential employer balk at hiring you, take it down. If a friend has such photos, get them to take it down – even if you’ve locked down your profile, your friends may not have.

4. You’ve written an opinion piece that’s considered too controversial.

I’m truly amazed at how people will post things on their blog or on a social media site without really thinking about who might see it. Yes, it feels great to get something off your chest by posting your opinion and yes we do have freedom of speech in the United States. However, not everyone may agree with your opinion. While many (not all) people can respect that your opinion differs from theirs, virtually none will tolerate it if you’re unprofessional or immature about it. If you feel the need to vent online, create a handle or nickname and use that to post your diatribe.

5. You’ve revealed too much about your flaws.

I’ve seen people post notes on Facebook and Twitter about things that would make a potential employer cringe. Some examples:

Details of their personal relationships.

Nasty exchanges with other people that show that the person has a short fuse.

Questionable ethical behavior such as stealing, pirating (software, movies, etc…) or dishonesty.

Details about any legal/criminal issues such as lawsuit, excess speeding tickets, driving under the influence, etc….

I could go on forever with this list but you probably get the point.

It doesn’t seem fair:

Yes, we all do certain things and none of us are perfect. However, when you’re looking for work, you need to be as close to perfect as possible. Employers can be picky with who they hire so even you’ve got the right skills, others may have the same skill set but appear to be less of a liability. So you have to ask yourself a tough question: acting like a model citizen online until you get a job too big a sacrifice for ending your unemployment?

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